In its sixth year, Screamfest continues to make itself a must for any L.A.-area horror fan, with a mixture of hot new releases (30 Days of Night three days early, George Romero’s new Diary of the Dead), big-screen showings of anticipated DVD titles (the extended cut of Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror, Joel Silver’s House on Haunted Hill 2), special events (Friday the 13th Part 3 in the original 3-D!) and some of the best new upstart fright flicks out there. In 2006, the fest brought us Hatchet, The Lost and Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon; this year’s lineup is bigger on creeps than chuckles, and if you like this stuff as much as I do, may well deliver some of your favorite filmgoing experiences of 2007. Best in the fest is Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity, a descendant of both The Haunting and The Blair Witch Project that purports to be found footage from a young couple hoping to document the things that go bump in their nights. Making the most out of a single location and tiny cast, it’s the scariest movie of the year. Equally compelling is The Signal, in which exposure to an odd broadcast on cable TV results in varying degrees of madness; that the film has three directors adds to the intentionally disorienting effect.
Very bad people are the antagonists in Andrew Moorman’s taut motel-room thriller Sympathy, Jamie Blanks’ pretty and unpleasant young-couple-versus-roughneck-drug-dealers tale Storm Warning, and Mark Young’s listless post-apocalyptic cannibal battle Tooth & Nail; argue among yourselves if these are technically “horror” or not. Just be sure to skip the uninspired Children of the Corn knockoff Hallowed Ground, and the initially interesting but ultimately tedious Halloween-with-a-twist wannabe Frayed. If dumb fun and familiarity are your thing, there’s a better option: Days of Darkness, which begins as a Romero zombie riff, then mutates into a lower-budget take on Carpenter’s The Thing, with a lovingly absurd final twist.
And if you’ve ever doubted those Landmark Theatres ads that proclaim “the language of film is universal,” don’t miss Room 205, a Danish riff on the J-horror “pissed-off dead girl” subgenre; Doodeind, a Dutch movie set in Scotland that involves a haunted house and some really cool visuals reminiscent of “survival horror” video games; and Hell’s Ground, a slasher movie from Pakistan in which a bunch of stoner kids in a van on their way to a concert run afoul of a crazed Islamic fundamentalist in a burka! (If that’s too un-P.C. for your liking, there’s also an encore screening of Screamfest 2006’s The Tripper, in which a bunch of American stoner kids in a van on their way to a concert are terrorized by a Ronald Reagan impersonator wielding an ax.) The world is so full of real horror these days that it’s heartening to think that a shared love of fictional scares can bring us together. (Mann Chinese; thru Sun., Oct. 21. www.screamfestla.com.)
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—Luke Y. Thompson