Monday , 6 February 2023

A Bloody Good Time at New York City Horror Film Festival

Let the bodies hit the floor!


The only thing that beats watching a killer horror film for the countless fans of the genre is seeing it with a bunch of others that share the same passion for frightful fare. For the 14th year, the New York City Horror Film Festival is the perfect antidote for those already suffering from Halloween withdrawal and wished the scary season lasted a bit longer. Luckily, here in the Big Apple, it does. The festival organizers have once again put together a fangtastic lineup for the four day event, loaded with premieres, shorts and a special lifetime achievement award to Adrienne Barbeau. Taking place in Manhattan at the newly-named Cinepolis Chelsea (formerly Bow Tie Cinemas) after last year’s visit to Times Scare, the selections ranged from bloodthirsty demons to vengeful ghosts to horrific monsters. The Gore 4 was there on Day 1, so here’s a look at the cool stuff we saw, and the things to come.

After the kick-ass video intro put together by program founder, the late Michael J. Hein, which utilized clips from Carrie, Dawn of the Dead and The Shining, to name a few, the night got started with a couple of creepy shorts. When Susurrus Stirs, by Anthony Cousins, was a gross-out, f/x-filled body horror that could be described as Frank Henenlotter’s Brain Damage meets David Cronenberg’s The Fly. It was amazing the number of practical effects that were used within its 10 minute running time.


{From A Knock at the Door – writer/director, Wendie Weldon; star, Drew Jenkins, writer/dir., Katrina Rennels; producer, co-star, Kelley Mack. Photo courtesy of Raven Adams Photography.}

Next up, was the eerie short, A Knock at the Door, wherein a chilling scream, the titular event and a party among friends leads to some strange happenings for one man. It was co-written and co-directed by Wendy Weldon and Katrina Rennells, who were on hand, along with producer and co-star, Kelley Mack and star, Drew Jenkins, to discuss their project. It was, incredibly, shot in one night, over the course of just 8 hours. When asked about women working in horror, Katrina said it was becoming more accepted and that the industry was more open to them now, while Kelley explained how this allowed women to feel more empowered. Certainly, in this current climate where women are fighting for equality in many walks of life, from wages to just basic respect, seeing more women behind the camera in horror is a great step in the right direction. Though it may be surprising to some, females generally outnumber males when it comes to audience breakdowns for horror films, so it’s only fitting that they have more chances to show their ideas and perspectives, which will also no doubt bring us more interesting films. In speaking to Wendy afterwards, it was exciting to learn that they’re looking to flesh out their story to feature length. As the film has plenty of mystery to it, the door is definitely open to expanding it further. We’ll be keeping our eyeballs peeled for any future news.


Speaking of feature length films, the first one of the night was the Darren Lynn Bousman directed Abbatoir. Bousman is the director of Saws II, III and IV, along with his Repo! The Genetic Opera, plus the Mother’s Day remake, The Barrens and more. Here, he takes on what can best be described as a haunted house murder mystery. Oh, and what a house. You’ve never seen one quite like this. We could post a picture, but it’s best to see it for yourself when it first appears on screen – an asymmetric, ominous-looking monstrosity consisting of countless rooms filled with spooky spirits. The film stars Jessica Lowndes as a reporter investigating a tragic family event that befalls her. This Gore 4er has been a big fan of Jessica’s ever since she was first seen starring in Tobe Hooper’s Masters of Horror’s title, Dance of the Dead. She’s continued to appear in a number of genre films, like Autopsy, The Haunting of Molly Hartley, Altitude and Bousman’s The Devil’s Carnival. This stunningly beautiful and talented actress also co-starred on the series, 90210, where she was able to showcase her impressive singing abilities as well. In Abbatoir, Lowndes is equally effective whether she’s conveying complete and utter grief or a determined, resolute toughness. Joining her are Joe Anderson (The Ruins, The Crazies remake, and TV series, The River and Hannibal), as a detective, Dayton Callie (Deadwood, Sons of Anarchy) as a mysterious man with ties to the beyond, and genre vet, Lin Shaye (Insidious films, Ouija and Tim Sullivan’s pair of 2001 Maniacs films) playing the sort of eccentric part she’s best at. While the film is already available in some regions on home video, it’s set for a limited U.S. theatrical/VOD release on Dec. 9th.


After a short break to talk to some of the filmmakers and refill our popcorn, it was back to the theater for a couple more shorts. The first, by director Ben Leonberg, was The Fishermans Wife, another offering showcasing some fun, gory practical f/x work. It was followed by the longest short of the night, the 20-minute, Immure, about a long-suffering man tied to his flat where he must tend to his not altogether-human mother. The film even manages to tackle the important issue of domestic abuse while building to its horrific climax. Director Conscian Morgan flew in all the way from London to attend the showing, and we can’t wait to see what future horrors his talents will bring us.


Finally, it was on to the closing feature of the night, the East Coast premiere of Enclosure, by director, Patrick Rea, best known for his much-loved previous Horror Film Fest offering, Nailbiter (for which fans of will be happy to know a sequel is in the planning stages). Enclosure, which stars Fiona Dourif (Curse of Chucky and the currently airing BBC America series, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency), Kevin Ryan (the series, Copper and Guilt) and Jake Busey (Starship Troopers, From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series), takes a slow burn approach as it gives the audience ample time to get to know the characters before ratcheting up the terror with its tale of one hell of a camping trip.


Patrick Rea was also in attendance and we learned a lot about the making of the film. First off, it was shot in an insanely short 12 days and they used special lighting and post-production work to recreate the daytime scenes for when they were forced to shoot at night. The film was inspired by an actual camping trip Rea took with his wife where they encountered a group of obnoxious hunters, along with another aspect of Rea’s life that might give away too much if revealed here. Adding in some local folklore to fit in with the South Carolina shooting location, and Rea and co-screenwriter, Michelle Davidson had themselves a movie. The impressive f/x work in the film can be attributed to one of SyFy’s Face Off‘s alumni, Kevon Ward, who appeared on the show’s 9th season and is piling up a significant resume. One other interesting note – as the film looks to get a limited theatrical release, along with VOD, in January or February of next year, the title is up for debate. Turns out distributors have done extensive research showing that movies beginning with an “A”, “B”, “C”, or even a number or a # symbol, do better on demand as viewers don’t always take the time to scroll down their available list of movies. That’s why no one to this day has ever seen the movie, Zygote Murders. And it’s why Enclosure, which isn’t far down the alphabet, will most likely be getting a name change come release time. We’ll keep our ears open.


While that may have wrapped up Thursday nights festivities, there’s still plenty more to come the next three days, with the East Coast premieres of Shortwave and The Barn, and the world premiere of The Everglades Killings, along with a slew of creepy shorts. The highlight of the 4-day event will be the appearance on Saturday of screen legend, Adrienne Barbeau, as she accepts her lifetime achievement award. Star of genre classics, The Fog, Escape From New York, and Swamp Thing to the recent Tales of Halloween and upcoming Death House, Adrienne will be joining such illustrious past winners as George A. Romero, Roger Corman, and the late Wes Craven, Angus Scrimm and Herschel Gordon Lewis. Finally, on Sunday, after the last round of films, the various awards will be announced and handed out. A special thanks goes out to everyone who makes the NYC Horror Film Festival so special and inviting for filmmakers and fans alike, especially show hosts, Chris Rowan, Sean Marks and Alan Rowe Kelly, and programming consultant, Fangoria’s Tony Timpone, along with the festival’s directors, Ronnie Hein and Jennifer Hein Inserra, and, of course, founder Michael J. Hein, whose legacy lives on in the bloody hearts of all who attend this killer event. The Festival continues thru Sunday, Nov. 13. Find out more at NYC Horror Film Festival and follow them on Facebook. Tickets are still available, but hurry fast. You won’t want to miss a minute of all the wonderful horrors that await you!

— by Brian de Castro

About Brian de Castro

Brian worked at NBC in New York, writing and producing promotion for everything from Saturday Night Live to Letterman, Leno and Conan, as well as The Today Show and Nightly News. A graduate of Rutgers University, the New Jersey native, when he's not working on the Gore 4 website, can usually be found on a baseball field.