If you're sick of Saw sequels and are wondering if there are even any horror films left to be remade, take refuge this weekend at the Carolina Theatre's Nevermore Film Festival.
With its combination of all-new features, shorts and classic horror films, it's a reminder of what the genre can do. Here is a tip sheet on some of the 23 films at this year's festival, which offer laughs, scares and even a Cusack.
Cryptic features almost no gore but works up a fair amount of suspense in its tale of a teenager (Julie Carlson), who gets an opportunity to avert a tragedy with help from a mysterious cell phone. The plot will be very familiar to anyone who's seen the film Frequency, and there's a few too many twists at the end, but the filmmakers achieve a nicely washed-out look, and Carlson does solid work as a realistically sullen teenager.
The Hagstone Demon is perhaps most interesting as a curiosity; it stars Mark Borchardt from the cult documentary American Movie in a rare lead role. Shot mostly in black-and-white, it achieves a weirdness reminiscent of David Lynch and the classic Carnival of Souls in a few places, but other parts are more like something by Ed Wood. It's more interesting than Coven, the short Borchardt did in American Movie, and the auteur is ... well, himself; it's oddly amusing to hear him droning through the film's narration.
Scare Zone, a comedy about a haunted house attraction that goes horribly wrong, is a bit draggy in places but should prove a crowd-pleaser for an audience familiar with the clichés it parodies. Same with Strigoi, a UK/ Romanian production that mocks Romanian culture and mythology as it goes back to the roots of the vampire legend. The film badly needs to lose 10-20 minutes, but it has a welcome dark humor to it on occasion.
The block of shorts grouped as They're Coming to Get You, Barbara! features some of the best of the festival; highlights include the animated short Pigeon Impossible, a Pixar-like charmer (it can be watched online at www.pigeonimpossible.com, for readers who don't want to desensitize their kids to violence). There's also The Ugly File, a no-frills but effective take on an Ed Gorman story, and Hector Corp., an entertaining tale of a man versus a penguin stress doll. It makes sense, honest.
Sadly, the festival's most-hyped short, AM1200, wasn't available for review, but it boasts a performance by character actor Ray Wise (Twin Peaks, Reaper). It appears in a block with the fractured fairy tale Shrove Tuesday, which features some heavily stylized and disturbing imagery, and the amusing Sinkhole, about not realizing you're in a monster movie. The Four Minutes til Sunrise block of shorts is highlighted by Crooked Lane, a suspenseful number staring Ann Cusack (sister of John and Joan) as a mother haunted by the apparent spirit of her long-lost daughter.
Of the older films, the highlight is a 35 mm screening of Stuart Gordon's classic Re-Animator, the cult horror-comedy that will ensure you'll never look at a severed head the same way again. From the same year, there's the fan-favorite Witchboard, which has an evil Ouija board and Tawny Kitaen. Witchboard writer and director Kevin S. Tenney is also represented by 1987's Night of the Demons, which stars noted scream queen Linnea Quigley. Tenney will be in attendance to talk about his life and work.
If you're looking for something more traditional, or at least family-friendly, try 1948's Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, a comedy/ horror classic featuring appearances by several of Universal's greatest monster stars, including Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney Jr. Sometimes it's best to stick with the classics—but Nevermore shows that horror has plenty of new tricks as well.