Okay now we are gonna look at some things that caught my eye in virtually all the movies I saw. Not what was lacking, that was inconsequential in relation to the quality of the product. No i am talking about the core of the movies. What is more core to indie horror? Two things.
Tacos and more tacos. Bring that caterer back next year!!!!!
Okay now the real things I noticed.
2. making it work on a small budget.
Disclaimer right here, I can only comment on the films I saw (see earlier post for list of those). May not fully apply to other entries but this is what I picked up in the screening I was at. First the first one.
People always lament the lack of variety of monsters in horror. Everyone who wants to be "edgy" always has a list of monsters that should be done. I must confess, I have a list like that myself. But, and this is the big but, I know something that, apparently, a lot of people who lament this don't. These monster cost money and there is a difference between a spooky story around a camp fire and something people actually pay money to see. Thus you have to find a way to get a monster on the screen in a way that is different than before without loosing the crowed. Shriekfest has been great at this through the years with original monster and, even more important, variations on the classics. Which ones were prevalent in the films I saw. Psychos, zombies and boogeymen BUT there found cool ways to do these things. Lets take a look
Psychos- the thing that struck me in many of the films I saw was the emphasis on the mental aspect of the horror rather than just showing as much blood as possible. Has the torture-porn sub-genre run its course? For Eli Roth's sake I hope not but here there were some interesting takes on home invasion other killers.
I will touch on a couple of films I already mentioned, "Landmine goes click" and "He Waits". Very different movies that deal with the darkest side of human nature. One contains no blood, "He Waits", but the gasp the audience let out at the last shot should make the filmmaker proud. The other does not have near as much blood as people think. I counted only two gore shots (no pun intended for those who saw the movie) and that was it. I am so desensitized that I can actually count blood FX moments? Yes, but that is not the point. They created maximum disturbance without textbook replicas of the circulatory system on the screen.
Other films found variation in the archetype.
"Prey" for instance. Psycho meets up with home invaders and such seems fairly strait forward but dealt more with the limits of action within us and how easy it is for some people to get away with things.
"Chateau Sauvignon: Terror" dealt with dedication to family and ones own role in life. Plus it had to do with making wine which is very close to my heart and lips. Seriously, what they made would not be the worst wine I ever tasted.
"The Herd" I especially wanted to mention because it managed to get its crazy torture and hurting mixed well with social commentary without hitting us all over the head with it throughout. And again, there were scenes that shocked and horrified but most of the blood was implied rather than thrown at us.
So many films to mention but I will leave the psychos there for now and go on to
Zombies- You can't throw a stick these days without hitting a half-dozen zombies in shows. Just aim for the head. Here at Shriekfest there were plenty of members representing this subculture. The trick was to show them in a different way. You really can't just having a bunch of people running and screaming from the undead anymore. At the fest there were ways of showing the terror and the relationships with the living that went for new territory.
"Starving" combined the undead apocalypse with a caper flick of a bank heist that does not go so well.
"Zero" was the story of family heartbreak as a beloved member succumbs to the zombie virus. For me i want to know who did the pics on the wall. They were cool. That is a bit cold but I am a jaded Hollywood type.
Combining the plague of the undead with a video game ethic was "6:15". A one-shot, first-person POV zombie feature had me thinking game and movie at the same time. This film also showed an interesting variation in the audience. Several viewers left due to the movement of the camera on screen. A little sea sickness can affect the viewing pleasure. Yet these tending to be of the older generation. younger folk who, upon my investigation, were used to GoPro videos and first person shooter video games felt unaffected by the movement. Is this a sign of the generation gap or the now expected level on trans-media development in cinema? Oops! that is my next post. Will talk about that later. Right now lets jump over to the....
Boogeymen- Just what are these things that go bump in the night. It is the fact that we never really have a uniform idea of what they are that makes us scared of them. Ripping off the quote from HP Lovecraft "the oldest known emotion is fear, and the oldest fear is fear of the unknown". All these monsters have to do is really not let us get a good look at them and they scare the crap out of us.
Now one thing i notice that seems to go very well with boogeymen is young people. Especially little kids. Movies like "Peek-a-Boo" are just creepy as they give us the seemingly harmless kids game. Which, when you think about it, is kinda a weird game designed to scare. Combine this with the monster in the closet which we never really get over as we grow up, we just booby-trap the closet.
"Knock" gives us a teenage protagonist but is still playing on those fears, even as our young lady hides in the quintessential kids hiding place..under the bed.
For adults we never really loose that fear. "The Peripheral" looked and what we barely see out of the corner of our eye. A great monster and opens the idea to something even scarier. The concept that any sense of rationalization is a lie in itself. Plus tells us not to believe our shrink. That last bit we could have figured out on our own.
Even what is technically a zombie pic, "Granny of the Dead", delved into boogeyman territory as the demonic nature of the creature was apparent and they shadows on the wall told of a non-rational explanation for this.
Now some will even argue that some of our psychos qualify as boogeymen but lets not get to cerebral...yet. Now lets talk about something very impressive. That is the hurdle all the filmmakers had to work around and succeeded. Of course I am talking about he fiscal factor.
Budgets (the really scary part)
Now all of the above have something in common. They were all done without the backing of a major, or even a minor, studio. How do you make all this work, especially the science fiction, on a budget that would be considered ridiculous in a major release? Well, you just do.
Every one of these film managed to make their monsters, spaceships, horrible deaths and such work and how do you do that. Using a lot of techniques to make the dollar go farther without looking like it is being stretched. This includes cleverly hiding the fact that your special effects are used sparingly.
"The Stowaway" only had a couple of exterior shots and some digital images. The rest of the film was actually two people in a small room talking.
I already mentioned "Alien Communication" in a previous post but here you have a static prop, the alien probe, some digital effects and two people talking, or at least trying to, in a field. Okay, that one had two other people talking in a van but still no real money shots as they say.
The horrific entries made good use of practical effects and, above all, atmosphere. Like the telling of a good joke you need to build up to a scare and using the dark hallways of a house or the dank corrupt feeling of a testing lab works in this respect. Even a play ground can be scary when you have the right light and sound going on.
A little side note, good use of music by all the entrants. One of my pet peeves is when someone has their friends rock band that has never been signed in its 20 year existence make the complete soundtrack for the film. This is not the time to help someone go for their rock star dream which ain't gonna happen. Enough ranting, back to the movies.
Right now the whole issue with media making, notice I do not say "film making" , is what you can do with affordable new technology. So much can be done on a phone or a tablet and that is great. This fest showed the level of professionalism that is available for all willing to look for it. The last part of that sentence is the crucial part.
This is not to say that all things are being replaced or merely having access to the tech will make a good movie. All media making comes down to the script and is presented through the filter of the cast and crew. Many a great idea has fallen apart in the script phase and, yes, you need a script. Even Goddard had limited success with that. No digital effect can cover up bad acting and nothing turns a horror into a comedy faster that technical mistakes by the crew.
Fest like this keep things fresh and lively and are paving the way into the new era of media. How's that for a segue!? Of course I am talking the brave new world of trans-media entertainment. Will be looking at that in the movie and in the fest itself for my third and last post on this topic. Well...last post for now. More on that later as well.