Movie Review: Festival Of Horrors: Volume Two
Traditionally, horror movie sequels pale in comparison to the originals. They’re frequently cheap knock-offs designed to quickly capitalize on the surprise success of the first film and quality is the first casualty. Rare is the horror movie sequel that is equal to or surpasses the original. One of those rarities is Festival of Horrors: Volume Two, the worthy follow-up horror short film compilation DVD put out by the Spooky Movie Film Festival and Rudderpost Films.
Volume Two exists, at the least, on the same level as Volume One and, depending on one’s horror preferences, surpasses it. Neither disc seems to share a common theme, except to showcase a broad diversity within the genre. However, Volume Two has a much more “fun” feel in its selection of films than Volume One. To some, “fun” may be antithetical to the world of horror, but here the combination of good times and scares mix together well.
This isn’t to say that the seven films on Volume Two are mostly horror comedies. There’s really only one short that can fall into that sub-genre. But two of the other films are done in a totally lighthearted vein and only one — ironically, the one that’s the least “horrific” — is grimly serious. The other three films fall somewhere in the middle.
Like with Volume One, each of the shorts comes with a brief, pun-filled intro by Washington, D.C.’s legendary horror host Count Gore De Vol. The films can be viewed with the intros or just by themselves. Here the intros serve to amp up the disc’s fun quotient. There’s also a hidden “Easter Egg” in the mix that features a conversation from the ’80s between De Vol and legendary horror figure, the late Forrest J Ackerman that’s well worth digging around for in the disc’s menus.
Below are reviews of each film in the order that they appear on the disc if played straight through:
Seekers, dir. Jon Jorgensen. In a very complimentary way, Seekers is reminiscent of an ’80s horror TV anthology show like Monsters or Tales From the Darkside, but with a bit more blood and gore and some partial nudity. The plot revolves around a nerdy, wheelchair bound comic book artist who is psychically bonded with a dude who is either a vampire or just playing at being one. Either way, people are being brutally murdered around town and the artist is recreating the crime scenes on paper, which becomes the cops’ only lead on finding the killer. It’s a nice, workable premise, but the film really has fun combining the live action with animated bits as the artist’s drawings come to life. It’s all vaguely reminiscent of the classic “Take on Me” music video by a-ha, except the cheezy synth-rock is replaced with fangs and rivers of blood. But the film isn’t all gimmick as it also does a really great job at giving each character — from the nerdy artist to the seductive killer to the jaded cop– a sharp, distinctive personality that’s familiar yet endearing.
Jitters, dir. Anthony G. Sumner. A happily engaged couple goes to bed on the eve of their wedding. When the man awakens, he’s tied up and being tortured by his cheery fiancée who is especially gleeful at cutting her betrothed to shreds. For a low-budget, two character, practically one-location, shot-on-video production, Jitters is quite impressive in the gore department — both explicit and implicit. However, what really redeems the film is that after a non-surprise, non-ending, the film keeps going on with an extra shocking denoument that delivers a nice unexpected twist. Good move on that.
Eight Thirty-Two, dir. Ben McDaniel. This is the least horror-ish and the most serious film on the DVD and has a tricky set-up with a mostly successful payoff. The main character is bound to a chair in an interrogation room where he’s quizzed about his involvement in an intergalactic conspiracy. There’s just a little too much back-and-forth regarding the mystery of the film — Is the man in the chair conspiring with aliens or is he an ignorant dupe? — so the film does drag a tad. But, Stephan Smith Collins as that man does a great job selling his predicament with a good mix of bewilderment and anger. Plus, McDaniel comes up with good creative visual solutions to add variety to a film that takes place 90% in one room. Sci-fi and surrealism is a tough sell, but this is a good stab at it.
Zombie Island, dir. Bill Whirity. This was by far my favorite film in the collection. Like a great horror comedy, the focus here is on the horror with the humorous situations arising out of the terror. A trio of slackers go hunting for zombies on a remote island and quickly get in way over their head. Yes, it’s completely predictable, but that’s where the fun lies. Rather than just buffoonish caricatures, the slackers behave like real people might in their situation, so it’s easy to go along with them on this ride and, when all hell breaks loose, we’re there rooting for them to survive. Although the film is very lighthearted all the way through, the humor is grounded in a good sense of dread and seriousness. There’s also a nice cameo by American Movie‘s Mark Borchardt.
Of Darkness, dir. Gary E. Irwin. This film is best described as a cross between The Evil Dead and R.L. Stein’s Goosebumps TV show. A group of pre-teen boys find a Book of the Dead, read out of it as a goof and, of course, end up unleashing unholy hell upon themselves. There’s also some of those obviously Sam Raimi-inspired motion shots from the POV of unseen demonic forces, but the film is original enough to not feel like a knock-off. Plus, the horror is more Raimi than Stein, so although the stars here are all young boys — and all of them uniformly terrific little actors — the horror is adult. Putting kids as stars in a horror flick is tough because there’s only so much that can be done with putting them in physical jeopardy. But by applying the film’s title in a very literal way, Irwin is able to make the film scary without either being a) too bland; and b) completely distateful.
Pumpkin Zombies, dir. Greg Gutierrez. I initially assumed this was going to be a Halloween take off on Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, but instead it’s an experimental goth horror tribute to old mad scientist movies. The “pumpkin zombies” are two actors wearing robes with pumpkins stuck over their heads. (They have to have been real troopers to deal with that). They grab unwary people off the street and, in a “laboratory” that would make Ed Wood proud, try to transfer their consciousness to another pumpkin. Their efforts repeatedly fail and they ultimately meet their match when they kidnap a resourceful goth girl. It’s a goofy, very entertaining little flick.
Electrical Skeletal, dir. Brian Lonano. This is Lonano’s horror precursor to his hugely popular and successful sci-fi hit Attackazoids!. His prediliction towards stop-motion special effects is also on display here as is a somewhat similar good-natured vibe. But this first film is a little more raw and a lot more punk rock with a great soundtrack by Casket Architects. An elderly gravedigger, fulfilling the Criswell role, introduces us to the “terrifying” horror we’re about to witness: A biker disrespects a graveyard and for his sins he’s punished by a skeletal monster created by an alien spaceship. This is a brief little film, clocking in at about six minutes, but it hits hard with its infectious, manic energy by throwing in all kids of outrageous elements — peeing on graves; drumming on skulls; spaceships made out of hubcaps; the half-dinosaur, half-human skeleton monster — then blasts out leaving the audience behind in a daze. The brevity of the film makes it feel somewhat like a pre-Attackazoids! experiment, but it’s a fun, fully-realized project in and of itself, too.
Read the review of Volume One.
Watch the Festival of Horrors movie trailer: