The 2017 Popcorn Frights Film Festival has come and gone. A week long celebration of horror that is housed within the O Cinema theater drew sold out crowds to many of it’s screenings. There is a great deal to cover and Amber has already done a great recap of her experience that you can read right here . Now it is my turn to give my take as well as fill in the blanks on the films she couldn’t attend while discussing my thoughts on why the event was such a success.
Festival Co-Founders Igor and Marc have done another great job of selecting a variety of films to showcase, their taste often differs and as Amber stated in her recap, this often results in a very balanced slate of diverse films with something for everyone. I will do a quick rundown of the films I saw and my brief thoughts on them.
TRAGEDY GIRLS directed by Tyler MacIntire
A fun and colorful horror comedy about two girls who are dying to become the next big name in the serial killer game and attempt to do so by kidnapping a legendary local killer to teach them the ropes. The performances by Brianna Hildebrande and Alexandra Shipp anchor the film while selling some of the sillier (but always fun) moments throughout. While it is primarily a comedy first, the horror aspects of the film are never shied away from and the blood and gore deliver for the hardcore horror fans out there that may be wondering if the teenage story may keep the film in pg-13 territory. It does not and Tragedy Girls succeeds on all accounts while easily ending up as being one of the best films in the festival and will no doubt find a big following once it’s full release, and deservedly so. The easy but apt comparison is Mean Girls meets Scream 4.
JACKALS directed by Kevin Greutert
One of the films I was pretty excited to see, Jackals has a solid setup when a family hires a cult deprogrammer (played by Stephen Dorff) to rescue their son from a murderous cult. Unfortunately this is as interesting as things get. Predictably the cult eventually shows up to reclaim their kidnapped member and things turn into a generic home invasion film. The rest of the cast is not up to task to sell the events at hand, and the pacing, and staging of the various invasion attempts is one of the films weak points. The cults history and motivations are never really touched upon and everything ends up coming off as a poor man’s version of You’re Next (right down to aping some of the same musical score elements). When all is said and done you unfortunately just feel like there was really no point to everything as the majority of the victims behavior and actions just seem so poorly thought out you find it hard to invest in any of these characters or this story.
TERRIFIER directed by Damien Leone
Admittedly I am not a huge fan of the All Hallows Eve films. They just never connected with me the way I would have liked them to, but they do have their fans, particularly the murderous clown found in the films by the name of Art. Terrifier is a solo adventure for the creepy clown and while not the biggest fan of his previous appearances, there was a certain excitement and energy in the air int he theater from everyone who was ready to watch this sleazy, grainy horror flick at midnight. The film follows two girls trying to get home on Halloween night after a party and they of course cross paths with the villainous Art. Terrifier knows exactly what it is and for the most part it works. It is creepy, gory, cruel and doesn’t pull any punches. The cast is small, but I really did like the two girls performances and David Howard Thornton is excellent as the clown. There is some stuff that some will undoubtably find a bit too tasteless and overly brutal, but the film makes no apologies for it. If I had any other notes of complaint it is probably that it could have been trimmed by 15 or so minutes to tighten things up. At one point I felt a few too many new characters were introduced late in the game just to pad the kill count and it became unecessary. Still I think Terrifier is mostly a creepy and nasty piece of low budget horror film goodness that will play great in October to horror fans looking for a late night slasher flick.
GAME OF DEATH directed by Sebastien Landry & Laurence Morais-Lagace
Not to be confused with the Bruce Lee film of the same name, Game of Death revolves around a group of (kind of obnoxious) friends who find an old electronic board game and decide to try it out, unfortunately for them, it turns out to be more than they bargained for when they realize the game will somehow kill them off one by one if they dont follow the rules, the rules which state they need to kill 24 people in the alotted time to save their own asses. Game of Death is a really well made film, the cinematography, music and acting is all pretty great. Everything is done with great attention to deatil and with skill. It is also a very strange film that will certainly disturb some by some of it’s crueler content. Admittedly when it started I kind of felt it misstepped by painting all of it’s characters in a negative light from the get go, and I really hated a few of the characters from the minute they started talking. Halfway through though a few of the characters become more likable and some of the lesser characters are thinned out which helps move the story along and got me on board. One problem the film does have is that these characters aren’t likable so when the time comes for them to do terrible things to stay alive, it is hard to really root for any of them. Game of Death is a solid film that should certainly turn a few heads. It just has some really strange story elements that make you go “oooookaaaaaaay?!” Also if you like weird creepy incest couples, THIS is the film for you!
MAYHEM directed by Joe Lynch
The film I was most excited to see in the fest did not disappoint one bit. Director Joe Lynch was in attendance to introduce the film and his energy carried directly over into what was on screen. Mayhem stars Steven Yeun (yes, Glenn from Walking Dead) as lawyer Derek Cho, who is just so damn likable that the moment he appeared on screen for the first time he received cheers and applause from the Popcorn Frights audience. The story without getting into spoiler territory revolves around a virus that infects everyone in Dereks’ office building causes people to lose control of their inhibitions and act on their most tempting instincts, many of them violent. After he is wrongly terminated from his job due to a frame up by the higher ups, some shady and violent stuff goes down, forcing him to take matters into his own hands and fight his way to the top to exact justice from his corporate oppressors. That is really all you need to know as far as the plot goes, Yeun and his co-star and partner in chaos Melanie (played by Samara Weaving) have an amazing chemistry and it is this chemistry that makes the film such a great watch. You really are rooting for these two from the second they decide to team up. Both performances are pitch perfect. Yeun being such a great actor and as previously mentioned likable, you don’t think twice when rooting for him even when he is doing horrible (but justified) things. Mayhem’s violence and action is all perfectly balanced with the right amount of heart and humor, while Steve Moore (The Guest) delivers a fantastic and pulsating synth score that elevates everything on screen to another level a lesser score would not have achieved. Mayhem is an exciting and fun film that everyone should check out once it releases. The crowd cheered loud for it when all was said and done and we were all treated to a great in depth Q&A session with Joe once it was finished. It should be noted that Mayhem also won the Popcorn Frights Audience Award for best of the fest.
ANOTHER WOLF COP directed by Lowell Dean
I unfortunately did not get to stick around to watch Another Wolf Cop, but I did happen to look over and catch Festival Co Founder Marc Ferman watching the trailer that played prior to Mayhem and his face lit up with excitement. It was almost enough to make me figure a way to stay and watch. I did however hear from most that did catch it that it was an enjoyable sequel to the original and I hope Marc enjoyed the hell out of it.
THE ENDLESS directed by Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead
I had my doubts going into The Endless as I was not a fan of the duo’s previous film Spring which is something I have caught much flack for over the years from other horror fans. The Endless tells the story of two brother’s who return to the cult they left years ago to find some answers and possibly some comfort in their lives. What they find is a strange realization that things were not as simple as they thought and they soon realize leaving will not be as easy as they had hoped. While I feel the premise is solid and give credit to the filmmakers for attempting to create such a film that deals with existentialism and more, I just could not get into the film. I really wanted to like it but nothing was working for me. It was a frustrating experience watching the plot plod along and the longer the film went on the more I felt as trapped in the theater as the characters in the film did in their cult compound. I can’t put my finger on what it is that didn’t work for me, but I think it is just the fact I have seen too many cult movies as of late and found the others to be populated with characters and a story I found more interesting. The desaturated look of the whole thing didn’t help matters either. It got to a point where I no longer cared what mystery was being harbored, or what fate would befall these people and I just wanted to escape entirely. I will say though that many people I spoke with in the audience liked the film so there is certainly an audience for it, I am just not one of those people. I was also abandoned and left for dead by my watch partner Amber a 3rd of the way through the film.
BETTER WATCH OUT directed by Chris Peckover
This synopsis is a pretty perfect so lets start out with this “On a quiet suburban street tucked within a ‘safe neighborhood’, a babysitter (played by The Visit star Olivia DeJonge) must defend a twelve-year-old boy from strangers breaking into the house, only to discover that this is far from a normal home invasio.” So is the setup for Better Watch Out, a film that I had high hopes for as did Amber who watched it with me and is a HUGE Christmas horror fan. On more than one occasion I looked over at her and she was staring at the screen in disbelief (in a good way). As it started out, it began to follow an all too familiar but still fun formula and I wasn’t sure where it would go, but when it gets going, holy shit does it get going. I can’t really talk about the film too much because not knowing is the best way to watch this film. Safe to say I was shocked when things took an unexpected turn and I was fully on board from that moment till the end. I would highly recommend this film which is well directed, perfectly acted and really one of the darkest films of the fest. I wish I could say more , but it is certainly a film where the less you know the better. This one should definitely make some noise when it finally gets it’s well deserved release as it not only is a great story, it is really well directed and highly polished. A must watch.
68 KILL directed by Trent Haaga
A frantic, sleazy ride that follows a psychotic hooker named Liza (Annalyne McCord) and her loving boyfriend Chip (Matthew Gray Gubler) who tags along on a robbery gone horribly wrong. 68 Kill makes no bones about it trying to not only push the envelope of good taste, but completely tears it to shreds. This movie will certainly offend many people and I think some will find it trying a bit too hard to be shocking or vulgar. I think though audiences who are much more open minded and not easily offended will find it to be a fun (albeit deplorable) piece of film. It is definitely not for everyone, but Gubler does his best to be the lone redeeming character in a film mostly full of scumbags who all deserve a bullet. I would think fans of Rob Zombie films would be the easy sells as it shares that same depraved trailer park aesthetic that he highlights in his films. Not sure I will ever watch it again, but it was a crazy ride for sure.
SEQUENCE BREAK directed by Graham Skipper
A love story between a socially awkward arcade machine repair guy and a gamer girl goes awry when a mysterious new machine shows up at the repair shop. Introduced by director Graham Skipper himself asking if “You guys are ready to get WEIRD!?” Sequence Break does just that. It’s a bizarre and trippy film that pays homage to the works of Cronenberg while treading it’s own ground. As Oz (Chase Williamson) life unravels his hallucinations and interactions between his girlfriend Tess (Fabianne Therese) and the mystery game become increasingly harrowing and dangerous and that is when things get the most visually interesting and unique. The whole thing has a dreamlike quality that makes it all somehow work. It is actually a difficult film to explain beyond that but it certainly has alot going for it and should appeal to a variety of audiences. I look forward to seeing what Graham does next.
PSYCHOPATHS directed by Mickey Keating
Mickey Keatings latest is quite the interesting film. The director of such films as Carnage Park and Darling delivers a pseudo anthology film following three different psychopaths (or four depending on your opinion) all on the same night. Instead of the stories taking place seperately they each play out throughout the course of the film while zipping back and forth between each one. The “wraparound” story centered on the execution of a serial killer( Larry Fessenden) which supposedly triggers a night of madness, is just a loose way to tie the psychopaths stories together, however the film really is just a collection of cool horror vignettes of little consequence when it comes to an actual plot. Still I was completely entertained and found them to be for the most part very well staged and visually appealing. The individual “psychos” each have some excellent scenes with my favorites being those of a silent masked killer and his assault on a strip club, while the other focuses on a creepy masked femme fatale played to perfection by Angela Trimbur (The Final Girls). The film also has an excellent soundtrack that accentuates every scene. I don’t know that it will be everyones cup of tea due to the lack of a focused narrative, but I do think that most horror fans who watch it will find something to like within the artistic approach and skill it is all handled with.
STILL/BORN directed by Brandon Christensen
The story of a new mother attempting to cope with the loss of one of her newborn twin sons, Still/Born is a very polished film from start to finish. I feel it is one of the most mainstream accessible films in the festival. It has it’s creepy moments and the lead Christie Burke does a great job portraying the range of shattered emotions and paranoia that come with the situation. When she starts seeing things, is it because she is having a mental breakdown or is it because there is a supernatural force at work? Still/Born is a perfectly serviceable horror film and the crowd seemed to really enjoy it as there were plenty of screams and jumps throughout. However I personally thought that while it is well made and acted, it really just didn’t deliver anything too new when it comes to the horror aspects and felt it should have really pushed some of the horror elements a bit more than the psychological ones to be something more special. As it stands I believe Still/Born will be one of those films that the general audiences will watch and enjoy and rightfully so, but I do think that the more seasoned horror fan will be left wanting something a bit different.
THE BRIDE directed by Svyatoslav Pdgayevskiy
This Russian film about a newlywed bride’s visit to her husband’s isolated family home has all the makings of a Guillermo Del Toro-esque fairy tale horror film. The film even opens up with a flashback period piece that would feel right at home in a Del Toro Film. As we follow the newlywed bride Nastya she slowly suspects that something is not quite right with her new in laws and their antiquated behavior and customs are just a warning sign of things to come. The Bride is a very well made film that unfortunately runs out of steam towards the end. It has it’s creepy moments, but for my taste they were too few when coupled with the run time, and also it is kind of a shame that the entire film is rather predictable from the outset, so there really aren’t many surprises to be found within if you are a devoted horror fan who has seen this type of film before. Again, it is all put together well but it was missing that extra something to really make it memorable.
So that there is my roundup for the films I caught at the 2017 Popcorn Frights Film Festival. Overall the films were mostly wins with a few clunkers here and there, but again that is bound to happen with the number of films found within such a large festival. To be fair some of the films I didn’t see or didn’t care for had their share of fans too for the most part, so there was indeed something for everyone. While the films are a blast and obviously the focal point of a film festival, the real fun for me is always with the people. Thanks to Popcorn Frights I have made some truly great friends and acquaintances. This year was no different, whether it was reconnecting with people I hadn’t seen in a while or meeting awesome new friends, everyone is there for the love of horror and it is such a pleasure to be able to revel in the fact that there is a community of horror lovers in South Florida who are passionate and supportive. To all the people who I shared this experience with, Marc, Igor, Amber, Mercy, Judith, Andreina, Omar, Holly, Dom, Jenni, Joe, Graham, Zack and of course Melissa and the staff at O Cinema like Karla, Craig and Nick, you guys are awesome and I am grateful for the week of fun that we all spent together. Igor and Marc did a great job putting everything together, from the order of the films to the guests who showed up to speak with and interact with audiences. I am proud to be involved with the festival and they should both be proud of what they accomplished in this third year building it up to become such an excellent event.