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Phoenix Film Festival 2014: Friday’s rabid film roundup

Posted by on April 5, 2014 – 10:59 am

Phoenix Film Festival“This is the end, beautiful friend.” That line from The Doors’ song could easily sum up Friday at the 2014 Phoenix Film Festival (PFF) and International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival (IHSFF), where several apocalypse themed films were showcased throughout the day and the highlight of the evening was meeting the amazingly beautiful Dee Wallace, who was on hand for the screening of her classic film, Cujo.

The crescendo of film fans grew throughout the day at the Harkins Scottsdale 101 theaters, and by the late afternoon the lobby was a frenzy of rabid fans and filmmakers waiting to get into the next film on their festival queue.

The theme of this year’s Phoenix Film Festival is “Join the Film Revolution”, and the PFF marketing team outdid themselves this year with revolutionary themed posters (my favorite is the PFF camera-head mascot as Uncle Sam) and a fun retro-revolutionary introduction which plays before each featured film.

Here’s a roundup of the films we covered at Friday’s festival:

Sci-Fi Shorts A – This block of short films was selected by science fiction and fantasy author, Michael Stackpole, and he introduced the collection by saying he tried to encapsulate “everything science fiction has to offer.”

  • Library – The Sci-Fi shorts block was kicked off with this animated end-of-the-world vision, where the literary treasures of our lost civilization are preserved in the bodies of ravens that once haunted a long lost library. A very cool concept with a crude but detailed visual style that justly fits the world it portrays.
  • Pale Blue Dot – This time-traveling apocalypse tale from down under has an astronaut landing in the future, where she is then torn between staying with her husband, who survived the disaster, or returning to the past to warn of the coming catastrophe. (No, it’s not Natalie Imbruglia.) This one’s a little heavy on the romance and a little light on the budget, but it’s a nice story and an interesting idea.
  • The Wars Of Other Men – This is an ambitious look at chemical warfare in World War I, with a Sci-Fi twist and some unique and steampunk-styled imagery. A military officer leads his men on a suicide mission to capture an enemy scientist responsible for creating a deadly “fog” gas, so that his side might use it as well. This is a well done morality tale with some really fun visuals, but it seemed like almost as much time was taken on its very good credit sequences as was spent on the rest of the actual film.
  • The Escape – This one is a very short but sweet time-travel/end-of-the-world flick with a man being chased through an apocalyptic world, running towards some fun twists and turns. Not a whole lot to this, but it has a nice aesthetic style and its story has a great science-fiction payoff.
  • The Horizon Project – This was one of the better films in this collection and it could probably have run in one of the Horror Short anthologies as well. A pandemic has devastated the world and survivors are checked for the mystery disease before being transported to a clean location. They may finally have found the key to a cure in a young boy whose immunity is in jeopardy. This was an intriguing little film with very good production quality.
  • The Developer – This Hungarian film was the best short of the first Sci-Fi block and it has an original story with a fantastic style that is reminiscent of Blade Runner. A young man solves mysteries by placing a sheet of photo paper at the base of his neck; he then goes into an unorthodox hypnotic trance that transfers a memory imprint onto the paper. But when he sees his own death, he must alter the future in order to save his life. I loved the old-timey silent-film world the hero experiences as part of his trance and this was one of the most unique stories I encountered all day. A representative for the film said that a feature based on this short is in development and I can’t wait to see it.

Phoenix Film FestivalHorror Shorts A – I was very pleased with this selection of horror short films and pleasantly surprised by the lack of slasher-centric material (nothing against those who love that stuff.) This collection seemed like it was pulled straight from the pages of an EC horror comic and almost every offering was a perfect balance of fun and fright (the way it should be.)

  • Love (Liebe) – This wonderful short from Canada set the tone for the whole horror block collection. It’s a picture-perfect love story that quickly goes awry, in alarming fashion. It’s very funny and horrific at the same time. Perfekt!
  • Happy birthday Mr. Zombie – You probably never thought about how zombies celebrate their birthdays, let alone how they blow out their candles while being deprived of breath. Well, writer/director David Leclercq from Belgium has, and his film explores all the horrific possibilities in a hilarious manner. Great make-up, special effects and high production quality, it’s a very nice horror film reminiscent of Creepshow.
  • VHS – Whatever happened to all those VHS tapes you used to have? Find out in this twisted blend of live-action and stop-motion animation. This is a fun look at the media format of a bygone era and how those clunky tapes get their revenge on DVD enthusiasts. VHS is inventive, nostalgic and horrifyingly fun.
  • Itsy Bitsy Spiders – Director Bertrand Paré says he looked at this short as an origin film. It’s about a strange boy obsessed with arachnids, who draws the ire of his apartment’s superintendent for all of his spider scribbling on the walls. His mother even wraps his hands to prevent his mischievous ways, but the boy’s fascination with the bugs eventually comes in handy. It’s a clever and well done short film.
  • ‘Til Death – Four guys are having problems with their significant others and decide to off their partners. Unfortunately they bury the bodies on a witch’s property and their girls are soon back to haunt them again. It’s a fun take on the “til death do we part” theme with some gross horror and gut laughs.
  • Signal – A very short horror film from Turkey, where apparently that static snow from your old school television hates you just as much as you hate it. It’s another take on the “revenge of the old technology” motif.
  • One Please – Who’s screaming for ice cream? Not the kids on this nostalgic block, where the parents have to make and even weirder sacrifice in order to keep the children in the cream. This was one of the best in this very good lot of films. It has very high production values and is a hypnotizing visual rhythm of horror.
  • Beware of Children – A very good short from Switzerland, where a quiet suburban neighborhood turns into Children of the Corn (minus the corn.) It’s very well done and funny; and it’ll make you think twice about having kids.
  • Kenneth Miller’s Dust Jacket – I actually saw this one at last year’s PFF, but maybe in a different category. Local filmmaker Kenneth Miller’s short is a twisty tale that proves you can’t judge a book by its cover. Well done with a local flavor and some locales you might recogize. A nice wrap for the first block of horror shorts.

Dust of War – Once again, the future ain’t what it used to be. Dust of War is a different sort of post-apocalyptic tale in that its low-key hero, Abel (Steven Luke), speaks softly and carries a big sword across the ravaged landscape while on a mission to save a young woman who holds the mysterious key to the world’s survival.

General Chizum (Bates Wilder) is a ruthless Jeff Bridges lookalike who’s also after the woman, and he chases Abel and his friends, including Tom Dixie (Gary Graham), a Billy Bob Thornton lookalike, across minefields and through new age communes.

The alien invaders look kind of like a slightly more modern Klaatu from The Day the Earth Stood Still, but with red armor. This is an average film as far as end-of-the-world flicks go, but the Tom Dixie character keeps it alive with fun one-liners. A strange appearance by Hellboy’s Doug Jones (Abe Sapien) was also a nice touch.

SOS: Save Our Skins – This was the best film of the day (well except maybe the Cujo screening with Dee Wallace) and is in the comedy/horror genre with Edgar Wright movies like Shaun of the Dead and The World’s End.

Two English friends are in New York City to attend a comic exposition, but when they wake up in the morning the entire population of the Earth has vanished. Well, not exactly everyone. There are still enough weird creatures and insane people about to make life interesting.

This film has an ultra-sharp wit and is littered with amusing and hilarious pop culture references and observations. It’s a loving homage to end-of-the-world movies and even though it’s on a small budget, it still pulls off some pretty amazing visuals of an empty New York City.  I highly recommend that you seek this one out.

Misfire: The Rise and Fall of The Shooting Gallery – I took a break from the horror and Sc-Fi fare to take in this real world documentary about the rise and fall of “The Shooting Gallery”, the once powerful independent movie house, responsible for films such as Sling Blade and Laws of Gravity.

If you enjoyed the indie film craze of the nineties and you’re interested in how the cinematic sausage was being made during that era, then you’ll most likely enjoy this movie.

Misfire gets a little convoluted for those not familiar with the many players that made up this non-studio, but it is still an entertaining and interesting look at how business can corrupt the creative process and the paradox of art, money and fame.

Dee Wallace at IHSFF Cujo Screening

Dee Wallace with fans at IHSFF

Cujo (with Dee Wallace) – The highlight of the evening was the screening of Stephen King’s rabid dog film, Cujo. A favorite of mine since it first hit the big screen back in 1983. But this showing was made all the sweeter by the special appearance of its star, eighties icon Dee Wallace.

You most likely remember Dee as the Mom in Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, but she also appeared in countless other genre films like The Howling and Critters. The very personable Ms. Wallace introduced the movie and also stuck around afterwards for a Q&A and autograph session with fans from the audience.

Just before the screening went down, we were given an opportunity to have a one-on-one interview with the actress (and, yes, she’s still just as beautiful as ever.) Stay tuned for more on our discussion – later this week on NERDVANA.

NERDVANA will be tweeting ‘live’ from the PFF/IHSFF all weekend. Follow us @nerdvana.