It was a proverbial “day of the dead” on Friday for the second day of the Buffalo Screams Horror Festival. It was nothing but zombies, zombies, and more zombies. If the movie had slow-moving ghouls that were dead and all messed up, it was shown to a ravenous public. Some of the movies included an interesting twist on the mother of all flesh-eating zombie films to Buffalo-made living dead shenanigans.
Opening the day was the American short directed by Brandon Hunt, The Duty of the Living. The film focuses on a returning veteran of a zombie war, played by Juan Riedinger (Jennifer’s Body). While the movie doesn’t have any of the political overtones like the controversial Homecoming episode of Masters of Horror, it does a good job of portraying the struggle of a combat veteran readjusting to home life. This works great as a supplement to Max Brooks’ World War Z.
Next on the playbill was the video game-based parody, Resident Horror, made by Buffalo’s own X-Strike Studios. Differentiating slightly from the Resident Evil canon, the film centers on a squad sent to investigate murders in the mountains of Badger City. While this may be labeled as a comedy, there was more respect for the source material than any of the official Resident Evil films. Clearly most people in the audience never played any of the Resident Evil video games since many of the game-specific gags went over their heads.
The numerous references (“mistress of unlocking,” extensive examination of a mere pool of blood) and use of video game iconography (i.e. the spinning graphic of a crank after being picked up by a character) were welcoming to me as a fan of the game series. Hearing the shriek of the Licker from Resident Evil 2 and the brief shot of a character moving like a tank almost made me stand up and applaud. The music clearly echoed the scores of game series composer Masami Ueda. The comedy style was scattergun in the mold of Airplane! or Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, and the jokes were hit-or-miss. Yet, the characters musing on such ridiculous notions as convoluted puzzles and using herbs to heal wounds would resonate with a gamer audience.
Immediately following was the Gregory Kurczynski short, Risen. The 23 minute feature deals with a serial killer who finds a victim on the eve of a zombie outbreak. After reading the brief synopsis, I thought I had an idea of how the movie would go. Yet, the movie was executed differently than I expected. It turned out to be darkly ironic tale with a sickly humorous ending in the mold of the classic EC horror comics. Al Mauro was chilling as the serial killer and didn’t venture too much into the over-the-top range most other actors would for such a character.
When one thinks of phone booths in popular culture, people have different associations. One person may think of Doctor Who while another may think of Superman or Bill & Ted. In horror, Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds comes to mind. The French short, Cabine of the Dead, deals with a man trapped in a phone booth surrounded by zombies. Patrick (Richard Keep) tries to call for help from his friends and family, only for such calls to go unheeded. At Eight minutes, it built up its joke and ended with a great visual punchline.
What can someone say about Night of the Living Dead that hasn’t already been said? For as much as people crown Dawn of the Dead as the king zombie film, there would be no Dawn without the Night. Thanks to its placement in the public domain, it has been abused and taken advantage of. Numerous DVD companies, no matter how big or small, have released a version of this classic. Yet, the most ingenious use so far has to be Night of the Living Dead: Re-Animated.
Resembling an art exhibit slide show, Re-Animated took the original audio of Night of the Living Dead and synched it with the work of 150 different artists. You had different types of animation and composition. There were shots made with the style of Lego, sock puppets, stick figures, creepy Furbys, Mr. Bill-style claymation, Henry Selick-style stopmotion, a 1980’s Nintendo game, an MMORPG, a mod of The Sims video game, and pencil animation similar to the “Take On Me” music video for New Wave band, a-Ha. If there was one problem, it was that some forms of animation went on for too long and the audience became a little restless until the next style of animation.
One of the animators on the project, Rochester’s Mike Boas, was into for the screening as well as to show the trailer of another project he is involved with. The trailer for Mind Rip was solid 80’s horror goofiness in the vein of Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste. Also, what is it with filmmakers using Goblin’s score from Suspiria and John Carpenter’s score from Escape from New York for such imitative fare? Not that I’m complaining since their music is some of the best in genre films.
The award-winning short, Davis, was screened followed by a Q&A with the cast and director. It was a chance for Buffalo’s own Bob Bozek to shine and to honor a truly memorable performance by him. Channeling his inner-Crispin Glover, Bozek plays a laid-off office worker who shows up the day after a vicious altercation with his boss. It starts out as a subtle drama but spirals into what can ultimately be described as “The Office of the Living Dead.” The movie ended quickly and on a high enough note before it would have ventured onto the beaten path walked on by hundreds of zombie movies before it.
Audiences were given a taste of Emil Novak’s zombie film anthology, Decayed, with a screening of the 99% complete edit of the”Adrift” segment. Vaguely modeled after Hitchcock’s Lifeboat, a group of people are trying to survive each other in a time of great distress on a boat, which would be during a zuvembie infection. Novak’s skill as a cameraman and actor’s director were on full-display in its 25 minutes. Having worked as an extra and crew member on the film’s other segments, seeing this section only whetted my appetite to the see the finished product. Once the segment, “Last Call,” is done, it will move into post-production and be released not long after.
Ending the night was The Defiled, a black-and-white horror film with a visage modeled after Night of the Living Dead and Carnival of Souls. The film centered on a father (Brian Shaw) infected with a disease that induces cannibalism and he must find someone to take care of his newborn son. Julian Grant’s tone mirrors that of David Lynch or Andrei Tarkovsky with its limited dialogue and use of ambiance. Its a thinking man’s “zombie” film if there ever was one. Whatever you do, don’t make any connection between this movie and the adaptation of The Road. Grant has made his disdain for such a comparison quite clear here.
Despite overexposure in commercials, video games, and movies, zombies still have a place in the hearts of horror fans. The creators of the Buffalo Screams Horror Festival knew this and took full advantage of it.