Screamfest 2009: Scream and Scream Again

The House of the Devil

It may be a sign of trying times for horror that this year’s Screamfest Horror Film Festival includes a few selections that don’t really belong to the genre at all: The misbegotten Ed Wood parody Mutant Swinger From Mars is funny for all of 10 minutes, while the ponderous Bajo la Sal plays like an overlong episode of CSI: Mexico. The Canyon is basically Open Water with sand. At least opening night selection The Tournament, which sees alcoholic priest Robert Carlyle thrust into a battle between 30 assassins, offers some blissfully bloody kills. Patience is urged, however, with some other entries that initially appear to be similarly off-point. Before the Fall (3 Dias) begins as a meditative drama about confronting an imminent apocalypse, but it gets all Saw on your ass before everything is said and done. And while The Revenant initially plays like a surreal dramedy about a deceased military veteran who suddenly wakes up in his grave, it eventually becomes something like what The Boondock Saints might have been if its protagonists were foul-mouthed zombie-vampires. A total must-see. Nuttier still is the Takashi Miike-meets-Troma-on-acid delirium known as Vampire Girl Vs. Frankenstein Girl, while the nasty number that is The Human Centipede (First Sequence) delivers the most truly fucked-up mad scientist since Udo Kier in Andy Warhol’s Flesh for Frankenstein — for hardy souls, his master plan must be seen to be believed.

Promising new talents on display include Australian director Brett Anstey, whose Banshee slasher Damned by Dawn is effectively atmospheric despite some goofy CG ghouls; the practical low-budget effects that create a mirror-dwelling demon in John Michael Elfers’ Finale should set the standard. Christopher Smith’s Triangle delivers dark, surreal suspense aboard a ghost ship, while prior Screamfest MVP Ti West (The Roost, Trigger Man) returns with two films that, in his trademark style, look like they were dug out of the back room of an ’80s VHS clearance sale. Satanic thriller The House of the Devil (whose ensemble cast includes Warhol alum Mary Woronov and Mumblecore it-girl Greta Gerwig) is the better one, generating effective but really sloooow suspense, while Cabin Fever 2 has some nice moments — think teen comedy plus blood-puking! — that never quite form a coherent whole. Enthusiasm will vary for Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre, which is exactly what it sounds like; Necromentia, a.k.a. Saw meets Hellraiser, but better than many entries in both of those franchises; and Forget Me Not, a slick, Hollywood-style PG-13 slasher with ridiculously beautiful “teens” that’s actually pretty fun within its limiting parameters. As for festival closer The Fourth Kind, let’s just say it is, in many ways, what people feared the apocryphal big-budget remake of 2007 Screamfest discovery Paranormal Activity would have looked like. (Mann Chinese 6; Fri.-Sun., Oct. 16-25.

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