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Day One of the Inaugural Buffalo Screams Horror Festival

Without a doubt, the first day of the Inaugural, I mean, Inaugural Buffalo Screams Horror Festival was a resounding success. The films showcased were very entertaining, ranging from Grindhouse-inspired fare to what may be one of the best supernatural thrillers in many years. Sprinkle in some laugh out loud funny shorts and it was a night for Buffalo’s horror community to satiate their love for blood and guts cinema.

The night opened up with the Canadian horror documentary, Under the Scares. Directed by Steve Villeneuve, it displayed the trials and tribulations of the independent horror movie scene. This should be required viewing for anyone who is trying to break into the movie scene in any capacity. It is an eye-opening experience seeing prominent horror figures like Herschell Gordon Lewis, Lloyd Kaufman, Debbie Rochon, Frank Henenlotter, and Gunnar Hansen make it clear that this business can kill you, financially and emotionally.

Weaved in between the interviews is the struggle of Villeneuve to have his own movie, Stories of a Gravedigger, released and marketed. On the convention circuit and through special screenings, he gets his movie out there. At the same time, he networks with other directors and companies for a full-blooded release and ad campaign. The film makes it a point to hit home the fact that a business sense is needed in addition to the creative sense. Marketing, box art, and negotiation skills matter as much as a good script, talent, and good sound quality.

One of the film’s most memorable moments was during a segment with Maurice Devereaux, director of End of the Line and Lady of the Lake. He illustrated an interesting metaphor for making a deal to release a film. He said, “Making a deal to distribute a movie is like a drug deal. Here you are with your movie in one hand and a gun in the other, while they have a suitcase of money in one hand and a gun in the other.” As outrageous as that sounds, its closer to the truth than one may want to think.

Next in the program was the short, Eyes Beyond. Directed and starring Daniel Reininghaus, it was the strangest, uncomfortable 28 minutes I’ve sat through for the evening. It deals with a family inviting to dinner by a pair of brothers. Things take a turn for the worse much in the twisted vein of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and go downhill from there. The film ends oddly enough on a PSA note regarding depression and mental illness. If you never see it, you’re not missing much.

At 7:30, a six minute short by Rue Morgue’s Rodrigo Gudino, The Facts in the Case of Mister Hollow, was an intriguing little mystery in what can be described as Victorian forensics meets Antonioni’s Blow-Up. It could easily be imagined that the audience is looking through the eyes of a consulting detective not unlike Sherlock Holmes. For the whole six minutes, the audience examines the same photograph. It pans and zooms as well as showing details that weren’t immediately visible in the picture, a smart way to imply the deductions that would have been made by such a character as Holmes.

After the short was the supernatural thriller, True Nature. This was the gem of the entire evening. It was well-shot, well-acted, well-written, and unpredictable. Not since Stir of Echoes or Jacob’s Ladder have I seen a movie that frightening as well as smart.

The plot concerns a family’s struggle to maintain stability after the re-appearance of the daughter missing for a year. Also making matters worse is the aftermath of financial complications from a contract killing. Marianne Porter as the daughter, also named Marianne, shines in her role and gives an amazing performance. Also noteworthy is Reg Land as her father, a man caught in the scandal that endangers him and his family.

After seeing this movie, I had to run to Emil Novak and ask him where this film come from? According to Emil, it was a film that Greg Lamberson brought to the attention of the festival. It has yet to be given a distribution deal and no word on a release date. If there was a movie that should be given a distribution deal and theatrical release on a silver platter, its True Nature.

The night concluded with a trio of short films. First was What Are They, directed by Kash Kostner. Horror snobs will likely blow it off as an Evil Dead rip-off in an urban setting with local actor Brandon Tyson in the Bruce Campbell role, given that it also had demons who could only be killed by bodily dismemberment, a book of incantations that brought for the demons, and a special dagger that could be against the demons. Who cares? I had fun with it. The audience had some laughs and saw it as a gory good time. Besides, the case could be made that Evil Dead itself was a gory knockoff of the 1970 film, Equinox.

Next was The Familiar, directed by Kody Zimmerman. It told the tale of lowly Sam Matheson (Torrance Coombs) who must clean up after a vampire and live as its personal house slave. Any attempt at a social life is tragically torn from him by his master. It had the Office Space “work sucks and I’m not going to take it anymore” aesthetic and ran with it for the whole satisfying 22 minutes. It humorously deconstructed the vampire mythos, thanks in part to a sardonic performance by Paul Hubbard as the egotistical, opportunistic vampire, Simon Bolivar.

The night ended with John Renna’s It’s In Back, an homage to 70’s exploitation. The film has the appearance of a 16mm film that was blown up to 35 mm. The plot centers on a bunch of thugs terrorizing a couple who are believed to have money in the back of their van. When they do see what’s in the back of the van, they get what’s coming to them.

The bad editing and overacting suits the spirit of the film. Michael O’Hear as the husband, Herb Green, was endearing and surprisingly physical in his role. Its good to see actors not afraid to get manhandled and takes some shots for the camera. Other than a fight sequence at the end that goes on for a little too long, it was nonetheless entertaining to watch. Keep an eye out for Anomaly Effects’ Arick Szymecki as an oddly-placed clown in a trippy flashback.

If tonight was any indication, the festival will continue to do well over the course of the next couple of days and should hopefully be brought back next year.

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