Celluloid Screams once again delivered an outstanding festival bringing us the latest and best within the genre. 2013 marked my third visit to Sheffield’s Horror festival and the quality in all aspects from the organization to the films themselves have been fantastic and that’s the reason I will continue attending for plenty more thrills and chills, blood and gore every October. This year my partner in crime Caitlyn Downs attended with me for the first time in order to provide daily coverage on the film’s shown and general festival going’s on. Unfortunately due to the busy nature of the festival and the charge of WiFi in the hotel we were unable to edit on the go therefore the videos recorded will be uploaded to my Youtube Channel over this next week.
There was so much great high amongst the features this year, so it has been a difficult task narrowing down my absolute favourite pick. From the Backwoods to the Revenge Flick, Body Horror to the Psychological Thriller, Zombies to Vampires this year’s programme provided a wide range of features that meant there was something on offer for everyone. Each film had its own characteristics that made them an incredible and welcome entry into modern horror. Also, some older films were shown adding to the variety. Some would argue that it would be unfair to include them within the top list of movies from Celluloid Screams, however as I had not seen any of them prior to the festival, I think they deserve a worthy mention and will be included. Overall I have complied a list of the nine best films I discovered this year.
So, my gore-freaks, let’s indulge in a list of ghoulishly good films that made Celluloid Screams 2013 a memorable weekend!
Please note that these are the opinions of Hayley’s Horror Reviews and do not reflect the overall audience vote in relation to the winning films of the festival.
9. The Battery
- Directed by Jeremy Gardner
For what it is, The Battery achieves what it sets out to do. Its a character driven piece that uses the zombie metaphor as a social commentary. Interestingly, the zombies remain firmly in the background as the audience explore these two characters who provide the main focus. We were informed during the introduction, that the title derives from the Baseball term that describes the relationship between the catcher and the pitcher. In another sense The Battery is a road movie as we step into the world of two ex-baseball players Ben (Jeremy Gardner) and Mickey (Adam Cronheim) as they aimlessly drive around a desolate New England avoiding shuffling corpses that now walk the earth. Ben and Mickey contrast each other greatly as characters. Ben is the type who will take action and fight for survival when presented with danger. Mickey on the other hand struggles to accept the change in their environment which creates a compelling dynamic between the two leaving the audience wondering if these two guys can really make it out alive together in the long run.
The framing of the characters with wide spaces between them helped convey their differences well and create the feeling of isolation. The relationship between Ben and Mickey is the film’s strongest element however the reason it’s so low on my list is because there were a couple of filmic decisions that didn’t quite zombie-fy me, so to speak! The main problem with The Battery is the pacing, its understandable that Gardner had a clear idea of what he wanted; to create this slow-burning sense of reality however it just dragged the film out longer than was necessary. At times it lacked atmosphere then something would happen that would pull it back up again but then it would return to a slow pace. The slow-pacing was also accompanied by several montage sequences which came across like an advertisement for promoting bands and turned the film into what seemed like an extended music video.
However, what made The Battery stand out was its ability to take expected zombie-movie tropes and completely subvert them, adding to that sense of realism, as in how the situation would play out in real life. A portion of the film sees Mickey discover there could be others out there, bringing in hope following an accidental radio transmission. Naturally it would be expected to have the two characters join a community made up of existing survivors, however The Battery plays this out in an interesting way. Another interesting aspect was how the characters wouldn’t go searching for a fight, they’d deal with it if approached by the zombies. We were also informed The Battery had been a low-budget film, the quality of the sound was sharp and the cinematography was flawless, demonstrating that because something may be low budget does not mean it can’t look and sound professional. The Battery incorporated strong performances and offered something a bit different in a sub-genre that has been over done, although would have been more favourable if it had been edited down slightly in terms of its run-time. ★★★
8. Motivational Growth
- Directed by Don Thacker
An interesting choice for the opening film, Motivational Growth is a hallucinogenic, horror, comedy movie that features the voicing talents of recurring genre stalwart Jeffrey Combs voicing a talking mold. With a quirky premise, Motivational Growth has a lot of promise. The film follows Ian Folivor (Adrian DiGiovanni), an introvert who hasn’t left his untidy apartment for a few months. Letting himself go, he only has an old-fashioned television, who he names Kent for company. Soon, he meets a grotty piece of mold on his bathroom wall. But this mold has some obscure intentions. The Mold begins acting as a motivational life coach for Ian, encouraging him to turn his life around but soon Ian begins to suspect that there’s more to The Mold’s intentions than he first thought.
Motivational Growth is a strange, surrealist piece. It has the makings of an out of the box indie style film, it also includes some video game sequences that prove pretty inventive. The set design is brilliant and it does well in terms of breaking down the fourth wall. It makes a commentary on the repetitive nature of television as well as the power that television has to manipulate its viewers, this is demonstrated in a series of moments where Ian starts to think the television is talking directly to him. It also conveyed society’s obsession with exercise during some humorous television scenes, relating back to 80’s films when exercise videos began emerging. My only criticism would be that the narrative proved difficult to follow at times, making for a confusing watch, therefore it won’t be to everyone’s tastes. Echoing films such as Basket Case and even Little Shop of Horrors, Motivational Growth will appeal to those who enjoy talking monster movies. It’s well-acted with believable chemistry between Adrian Giovanni and Jeffrey Combs talking mold as well as Adrian’s scenes with love interest Leah (Danielle Doetsch). It has entertaining moments with very out there humour and sequences. ★★★
7. Basket Case
- Directed by Frank Henenlotter
Celluloid Screams special guest this year was Frank Henenlotter who was in attendance to introduce his films Basket Case, Basket Case 2 and Frankenhooker as well as celebrate his contribution to Horror Cinema. As Basket Case was a film I hadn’t previously seen, I felt it deserved a mention in my top festival films for its sheer brilliance. Basket Case is an exploitation film meets body horror, the slasher and the monster movie all rolled into one. It follows the story of Duane Bradley, a young man who checks into a sleazy hotel in New York carrying a basket of all things. To the horror of those around him, little do they know that the contents of the mystery basket is his grotesquely deformed twin brother Belial who was separated from him as a child by some calculating doctors leaving him for dead. Now Belail and Duane are out for revenge on them. A complication arises when Duane begins dating a doctor’s receptionist causing Belail to become very jealous and destroy anything that comes in his path.
Belail becomes out of control, which threatens their quest for vengeance. Basket Case is an entertaining and often gory look at the complications between being so close to someone as well as being somewhat of a burden. Belail appears hideous on the surface but there is a great deal of empathy for him as he did not choose to be that way. Basket Case contains a lot of black humour and a seedy setting, making it the perfect late night movie. Belail has remained a memorable horror monster and the film has put its influential stamp on the genre with inspiring later films such as the previously discussed Motivational Growth. ★★★★
6. Der Fan (Aka. Trance)
- Directed by Eckhart Schmidt
- West Germany
Kier-La Janisse, author of The House of Psychotic Women introduced Der Fan (UK title Trance) a self-confessed favourite film of her’s. Providing the audience with some background information, Der Fan comes with a controversial history in cinema as a whole. Actress Desiree Nosbuch who plays the lead role of Simone was already a household name in Germany through appearing on Radio Luxenburg at the young age of twelve. She was around sixteen when shooting Der Fan and did full frontal nudity as well as performed scenes of chilling violence which would not be welcome in cinema today for someone of that age. Seedy exploitation or art film? Whatever you may view it as Der Fan remains to have a relevant commentary on the obsession with media figures, in this case the pop star.
Simone’s world surrounds a new wave pop star known as ‘R’, she carries a deep obsession for him and writes endless fan letters declaring her love. Each day she gets into an altercation with the post man when she receives nothing back from her idol. Determined to take matters into her own hands, she seeks out ‘R’ for herself outside a television studio. He instantly takes a liking to her, inviting her into his dressing room and to the rehearsal of his show. R comes across as very bland and uncharismatic, he is a puppet of the music industry and a projected image which is far from the reality of who he really is. Much to his entourage’s dismay he leaves without revealing his next move and takes Simone back to a friend’s apartment in which he has the keys for. After what seems like a long, drawn out sex scene, R rejects Simone, crushing all her fantasies of a life with him. Following what feels like a sleazy, low budget 80’s drama/thriller, the next sequence of the film came unexpectedly and could be considered one of the most chilling and extreme death scenes within cinema. Simone bludgeons R to death with a statue, then carves up his body and places his dismembered parts in the freezer. It doesn’t end there, we next see Simone cooking R, then eating him piece by piece. She grinds his bones into ash and scatters him outside the same television studio. When a bulletin emerges on the news as a shaven-headed Simone returns to her parents home, reporting the mysterious disappearance of R, Simone eerily writes him his last fan letter stating he’ll always be a part of her (literally!) and that she missed her period!
Desiree Nosbuch gives one of the most disturbing performances in horror movie history, the nature of the crime she commits is beyond shocking especially for the age of the character. Its a film that will be long-lasting in the mind for taking such a U-turn in direction. The version screened was an English dub which sounded stereotypically British, providing unintentional laughs, also the violence up until the dismembering sequence came across as pretty tame comparatively to today’s standards. What’s even more startling about the film is it has the potential to be remade today especially surrounding the hysteria and fan obsession of boy band One Direction, where some teenage females actually believe they will one day become the girlfriend the band members. Even with the use of Twitter nowadays it has the potential to up the ante. Definitely glad I had the opportunity to see this as it was a complex character study in obsessive behaviour and very underrated. ★★★★
- Directed by Renaud Gauthier
Celluloid Screams could not have chosen a better closing film. With its tongue firmly in cheek, Discopath pays homage to 1970’s exploitation as well as incorporating fragments of the slasher film in order to create an upbeat, funky, splatter-fest! Duane Lewis is a quiet young man who keeps himself to himself, until the summer of 1976 in New York when he is exposed to a new infectious music genre…Disco! A style of music that brings back memories of a traumatic past! Unable to keep control of his psychotic impulses he begins to kill! Its certainly murder on the dancefloor! Duane subsequently escapes to Montreal where he continues to carry out his murderous rampage on a Catholic girls school.
Think Saturday Night Fever meets grindhouse cinema. Director Renaud Gauthier captures the essence of the 70’s well, bringing in a catchy soundtrack full of disco fun including KISS’s ‘I was made for loving you’ and retro costumes spinning us with pure 70’s flare. Discopath is a definite crowd-pleaser and the feel-good horror movie. Its campy and retro and there’s plenty to enjoy, from the unintentional comedy that grindhouse films often displayed, to the thrill of wondering if Duane’s murder spree will be put to an end. Its sleazy, fun and infectious. I can guarantee this film will put a smile on your face! ★★★★
4. Chimeres (UK Premiere)
- Directed by Oliver Beguin
Chimeres ended up being one of those absolute gems where you go into the cinema blind just knowing its a vampire movie you’re about to see and being completely stunned by how great it turned out. Chimeres cleverly introduces the audience to its protagonists before bringing in the horror angle. Its a love story but works well as it allows the viewer to get a sense of what Alex (Yannick Rosset) and Livia (Jasna Kohoutova) relationship has been like over the years. There’s a believable chemistry between the actors creating characters that can be imagined in real life. The film kicks off when Alex, a talented photographer is involved in a devastating car accident following a romantic evening with Livia. He is immediately rushed to hospital in Romania (Livia’s place of birth) for an emergency blood transfusion. When the couple return home, Alex soon experiences some physiological changes and slowly transforms into a Vampire. The vampire metaphor is in place to depict the change in their relationship and how Livia must adapt to her lover’s new way of being, suggesting the notion, how far would you go for someone you love?
Introducing the Vampire aspect after establishing the love story is an inventive and clever choice, separating Chimeres from all the Twilight films and others of that style. Chimeres works as a dark, intense and intimate piece. It incorporates some stunning visual effects especially when Alex sees the changes in him through the bathroom mirror. These scenes demonstrate Alex’s polar opposites, we see him as his normal self then as a blood-soaked fiend. Oliver Beguin admitted he made the decision to expand on vampire lore and bring in some of his own ideas which sets it apart in its own right. Having Alex get the vampire curse from a transfusion rather than bitten by another vampire brought in a different dynamic, yet there were also conventions in place such as fear of sunlight. There’s a rawness to the film which draws the audience in to these characters lives. There’s plenty of blood and sex which is essential when it comes down to the vampire sub-genre. The sex scene itself came across as powerful and animalistic but was shot tastefully and added to the intensity. Livia is an empowering female character, there is a lot of focus on her being a kick boxer, demonstrating she can handle herself. Its finally refreshing to see a heroine that can be vulnerable and strong at the same time. There’s a scene where the couple are attacked by a group of thugs and in a turn of events Livia is the one to pull the first punch. So more Buffy less Bella which is what fans of these movies want to see. Catriona McColl plays a small role as Alex’s mother, she’s a fantastic actress and brings in a strong screen presence.
Chimeres is the best vampire film I’ve seen in a long time. It has everything this type of film should have, its emotional, romantic, passionate, gory and well-acted. It came so close to becoming one of the top films I’d seen at Celluloid Screams and I can’t wait to re-visit it again at the Abertoir festival next week. ★★★★
3. Big Bad Wolves
- Directed By Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado
Big Bad Wolves isn’t something that should be taken lightly. The film tells the story of a series of horrific child murders within a community in Israel. A sick, twisted paedophile has abused and murdered innocent young girls and left their bodies behind for the police to uncover with their heads missing. One father and a police officer take matters into their own hands when their worlds collide on the hunt for the supposed paedophile. The father locks him up in his basement with the sole intention of torturing him into admitting where he has buried his daughter’s head. I had my reservations before viewing this, the subject matter is usually far too upsetting for me to handle however I’d heard very positive things about Big Bad Wolves and made the decision to give it a chance but if it became too much I’d leave the cinema. Surprisingly I stayed until the brutal end and was blown away by how phenomenal the film really is.
The most interesting aspect of it was how it blended in genres within the backdrop of the harrowing subject matter. Big Bad Wolves is a psychological thriller and features some well-crafted torture scenes but the most surprising element was the use of black comedy that actually worked very well. In a sense it made the film more bearable when things became intense. There was much empathy for the father character as even though he transitioned between bumbling and tough guy, it showed how human he was. He was just a regular guy who had the most precious thing in his life taken away from him so cruelly. Tension was built up incredibly well as random real life interruptions including taking a phone call ensured that it would be a long period of endurance as to if and when the father and the audience will discover the truth. Plenty of twist and turns concluded the film in an exceptionally chilling manner that will be difficult to forget. Another interesting angle in Big Bad Wolves was the hints of racial tensions in Israel with the Arab community, which ends up being more vital to the main plot than first expected.
The score was beautiful and heightened the emotion throughout. Big Bad Wolves is one of the most powerful films I’ve ever witnessed with a harrowing on-screen portrayal of an issue prominent in society, yet is difficult to talk about at the same time. I suppose this is why these kind of films are made to give an insight into the complexities of dealing with the horror of paedophilia and the protection of children but also demonstrates that taking justice into your own hands will end in messy consequences. The film wasn’t gratuitous by any means, it carefully dealt with the nasty stuff with a quick shot of the murdered little girl from an angle and only used a description of the evil methods of the supposed paedophile which was graphic enough. The torture scenes themselves were shot in a way that put the audience on edge, almost wanting to look away without being too exploitative. Big Bad Wolves deserves a lot of credit as a whole from dealing sensitively enough with the prospect of child murder and creating a unique piece that combines genres that wouldn’t usually work well together, the entire cast gave exceptional performances, which made for a compelling watch. It will be long-lasting in the mind but I do highly recommend it. There’s no surprise that it won best feature film of the festival. ★★★★★
2. Painless (Aka. Insensibles)
- Directed by Juan Carlos Medina
Painless is a deep and harrowing portrayal of how a country has been impacted by a long dictatorship and the mistakes of the generations before them. Painless operates as a psychological and historical horror with the genre firmly in place as a metaphor. The title Painless is ironic in its own way as what the characters go through is incredibly painful to watch. Set between the past and present, Painless focuses on David, a neurosurgeon/workaholic who survives a horrific car accident that kills his pregnant wife. He soon discovers that he has an aggressive form of cancer which can be operated on with a bone marrow transplant. When visiting his parents it is revealed that David was in fact adopted and must seek the truth about his biological parents before its too late.
During the 1930’s a group of children born with a rare condition enabling them not to feel pain are locked away allegedly for their own safety during the height of the Spanish Civil War, David must uncover the tragic truth of their fates while coming to terms with his own impending death. With two narratives running alongside each other, the film takes its time to tell both of them, making it run fluidly. With a haunting tone, it really sits with the viewer on how the past can still affect an entire country, there is a consistent theme of fire throughout which heightens the tensions of the fascist regime and its effect on Spanish society. With a beautifully poignant ending, Painless is a phenomenal debut from Director Juan Carlos Medina, who has presented a well-crafted, chillingly thought-provoking piece that combines stunning cinematography and flawless editing. ★★★★★
1. Jug Face
- Directed By Chad Crawford Kinkle
Jug Face is unlike any other backwoods film. Sure, comparisons can be drawn with other films with similar themes such as Rosemary’s Baby or any cult related movies but Jug Face does stand out on its own. The film opens with several pastel drawings conveying the community’s mythology and the significance of the Jug Face as well as their worship of a muddy hole in the ground known as ‘The Pit’ which feels like a character of its own during the film as well as the main threat. This sequence emphasizes the power of film as a visual means of story-telling as the it does not rely on exposition at any point following the opening moments. The pastel drawings also convey a childlike tone which hints at the simplistic way of living for these kind of backwoods community. We then meet a young girl Ada (Lauren Ashley Carter) who appears to be living life by her own rules. She has sex behind her parents back which ultimately results in an unplanned pregnancy. Her family have arranged for her to be ‘joined’ with another local boy much to her dismay. Her closest confidant is a man called Dawai (Sean Bridges) who has a special ability to see and create the jug face, that is made to resemble a member of the community who will be sacrificed to the pit. Ada stumbles upon the latest jug and to her horror discovers she will be next, before her family and neighbours can discover the truth, Ada hides the jug face which leads to a series of tragic events that spiral out of her control. Chad Crawford Kinkle explained in the Q&A that he became inspired after discovering the jug face was part of a Southern tradition and developed the idea from there, with this film, he certainly offers something a bit different to the usual fare from this horror sub-genre.
The film tackles complicated family dynamics. The community is particularly male-centric, indicating that traditionally the woman’s role is to be a wife and mother. The idea that they are willing to sacrifice their own children is savage. It also deals with taboo subjects such as incest, which is rarely portrayed as boldly as it is in this. Jug Face evokes very interesting ideas about belief systems and the disturbing nature of how people believe they are doing something good by murdering. The performances are of a high quality, Lauren Ashley Carter carries the film beautifully, she portrays Ada as innocent and naive yet devious at times as she let’s the brutal fates of others happen to save her own skin. Even so, at the same time she is caring especially toward her friend Dawai and her elderly Grandpa and seems to be the only one who looks after him. Sean Bridges proves how versatile an actor he is as the kind-hearted Dawai who would willingly give up his own life in order to save Ada, its a stark contrast from the twisted, chilling suburban Father he played in The Woman. He and Lauren Ashley Carter display believable on-screen chemistry. Both Sean Young and Larry Fessenden also give outstanding performances as the parents struck by grief and loyalty to their beliefs. Sean Young as the mother delivers powerful yet disturbing moments in her scenes with Ada when their ideals begin to break down due to Ada’s actions. Jug Face is incredibly suspenseful as it puts the audience on the edge of the seat in a guessing game of what twists and turns will come next. It also has a supernatural element which compliments the backwoods drama well. The gore effects are interesting and prove effective without having to be extreme, the rapid editing used when depicting how the pit consumes its victims is presented in an innovative and clever way, which almost comes across as hallucinogenic.
Jug Face is unique and a refreshing take on cult mentality and all the devastation it can bring on a small group of people. Lucky McGee had a small role as executive producer and his style and essence is most definitely present within the film. With clear direction, a well paced narrative, impressive performances and plenty of suspenseful moments its the reason Jug Face had to take the number one spot on this list. It’s one that certainly works on a deep, psychological level and isn’t afraid to be daring. ★★★★★
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