NOTE: This recap is ridiculously late, so when I say “Well, I’m back” in the next paragraph what I really mean is “Well, I got back a week and a half ago.” Also, any feelings of sadness about having to leave Buffalo were obviously felt before the area got buried in a trillion feet of snow.
Well, I’m back from the Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival, where I got to have authentic Buffalo wings twice! I was mocked by festival co-chair Gregory Lamberson for the way I neatly stacked the bones, and then, after the photographic evidence of my OCD hit Facebook, I was demonized for leaving too much meat on the discarded wings. This made me all self-conscious the second time, though it did not decrease my enjoyment of the tangy deliciousness that is a genuine Buffalo wing. Nom nom nom!
[Note: I did not actually say “nom nom nom” after consuming the wings, because I was dining with other professionals.]
I attended the festival last year, and, if such a thing is possible, this year was even more fun. The selection of films was extremely strong, with a hit-to-miss ratio that was waaaaayyyy in favor of the hits. Officially, I was there for the screening of Gave Up The Ghost, which I wrote, and Chomp, on which I did lots of glamorous things including wiping up fake blood from the floor of a garage.
Before the actual movies began, I got to meet mega-fan Kimberly and sign a bunch of books for her, including the paperback of Wolf Hunt 2, which I was seeing for the first time. I wanted to ask for a few moments to be alone with my newest novel, but that would have been creepy and impolite, so I just signed it. I gave a copy of I Have A Bad Feeling About This to her third-grade son Bryan, which I’m told has now introduced the word “wuss” into his vocabulary, where it currently plays in heavy rotation. For that I apologize.
Friday night’s features were a sold-out world premiere of The Romans, and, after the very funny short The Heebie-Jeebies, the USA premiere of Six Bullets To Hell, an homage to spaghetti westerns, complete with bad dubbing. It completely nails the homage aspect, but it’s not a spoof or even a tongue-in-cheek approach; the movie is played straight, and as a no-nonsense, farmer-seeks-revenge-on-the-bandits-who-killed-his-wife western, it works beautifully. Great stuff. On the way to the venue, I was squeezed VERY tightly against star/co-director Tanner Beard, so feel free to writhe in jealousy, ladies!
Saturday began with a couple of wildly entertaining shorts, Teasers and Killer Kart (I don’t care if it’s a goofy comedy–those shopping carts are kind of freaky!), and then Call Girl of Cthulhu, a horror comedy packed full of laughs, gore, and nekkidness. Gave Up The Ghost had played before Cthulhu one at the Eerie Horror Film Festival just a couple of weeks prior, but I wasn’t there, because I can’t be EVERYWHERE, all right?
The next programming block began with Jerry (Blood Marsh Krackoon) Landi’s Demonic Frequency. I do not typically describe people as “a hoot,” but my wife describes Jerry Landi as a hoot, and if anybody is a hoot, it’s him! Next was the USA premiere of The Drownsman, a micro-budget feature that looks like it could be a multi-million dollar studio flick. It’s well-written, well-acted, scary, suspenseful, and would probably make gobs and gobs of money if it went out in a wide theatrical release.
Gave Up The Ghost played next. I’d seen it already.
But Bram Stoker Award-nominated author Patrick Frievald and his wife Meghanne (aka The Redhead™) showed up with gifts of homemade pepper jelly and chili-infused honey that Patrick made with his own bees! Absolutely delicious, and I’m not just saying that because Patrick commands his own bee army.
And that’s not all! Alex Khassanov and his son Pavel were there. I’d met them for the first time in person earlier this year at a zombie movie marathon in Tampa, and they brought me an unspeakably awesome paddle decorated in a Sinister Mr. Corpse theme. This time, Pavel did a companion panel for Lynne in honor of Chomp (with a bite taken out of it). You may think I’m exaggerating how great these paddles are, but when I post pictures in an upcoming blog, you’ll say “Yep, those are cool as hell. I wish I too had a custom-made paddle by Pavel Khassanov! It’s just not fair! It’s…just…not…fair!” [Primal wail of anguish.]
I loved Brett Kelly’s My Fair Zombie last year, and my obsession with the Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker spoof movies (The Naked Gun) was how I spent all my free time in the years before Facebook. So, Spyfall, a ZAZ-style spoof of James Bond movies was a pretty easy sell for me. This one is cheerfully silly, maintains a steady joke pace from beginning to end, and has a couple of huge laughs that brought the house down. Turtle licking has never been so hilarious.
Chomp was next. We’d seen it at a couple of film festivals already, but this was by far the best it had ever looked on-screen, and the audience loved it.
The Incident / El Incidente – Greg Lamberson had been hyping this one up in a huge way, but my high expectations were tempered a bit by the fact that I’m not a huge fan of movies that can be described as a “mindf**k.” Sure, I love weird movies; just not movies where you spend the whole time going “Huh?!?” El Incidente is definitely a bizarre movie, but the characters are completely relatable and behave in a plausible manner to the strange situation they’re in.
The less you know about this movie, the better, so I’ll just say that it’s about two sets of characters (one group in a stairwell, one group on a road) who find themselves trapped in an “infinite loop.” Not quite like Groundhog Day. More like being in a cheaply made cartoon and saying “Hey, didn’t we already pass that table in the background?”
This is one intense, anxiety-inducing movie. Audiences at film festivals are usually more polite than the average movie-going audience (here in Florida, the experience of watching a movie without some jackass talking through the whole thing simply does not exist) but this audience was dead silent and fully engrossed. Director Isaac Ezban, a delightful guy, had so many questions at the Q&A that we could’ve been there all night. Yes, one of those questions was “Do you think you could make a movie in English? Those subtitles were distracting,”…but apart from that, it was a fascinating Q&A and a great way to end the evening.
Sunday began with Army of Frankensteins. We spent a lot of time with director/co-writer/co-producer Ryan Bellgardt and co-writer/co-producer/cinematographer Josh McKamie during the festival, and they’re great guys. Sometimes this causes awkward moments, where you’re at a writer’s conference or film festival and you meet somebody cool, but then you read their book or watch their movie and suddenly you’re desperately trying to think of something nice to say about it. That didn’t happen here. Army of Frankensteins is an absolute blast!
It passes my standard test for this kind of film, which is: “Would you purposely watch a movie called Army of Frankensteins?” If the answer is yes, then you’ll love it. If you wanted to see the new Nicholas Sparks movie and your significant other dragged you to Army of Frankensteins instead and you were all like “This is sooooooo beneath me!” and you were pouting through the previews and rolled your eyes when the title came on screen, then it’s possible that this film won’t work for you.
It’s very funny, inventive, fast-paced, action-packed, unpredictable, surprisingly well acted, and fun from beginning to end. The special effects are cheesy, but they totally work for the movie, and from the perspective of what they managed to pull off on a budget that is .03% of that of The Avengers, they’re positively mind-boggling. And despite all of the head-crushings and gore galore, it’s a surprisingly innocent, good-natured movie. No spoilers here, but Abraham Lincoln’s final moment is genius.
I’d seen so many great movies by this point that I would never have expected that the best was still to come, but Alex Drummond’s The Shower was my favorite movie of the festival. A bunch of struggling actors and writers gather at a friend’s home for a baby shower, and then something starts turning people into homicidal maniacs. Not in a frothing-at-the-mouth 28 Days Later way–they retain their personality, except that there’s now an additional layer of wanting to be a sadistic killer.
The Shower starts off by making fun of its characters, but the movie actually has a great affection for them. Shaun of the Dead has that late moment where you realize that it’s having much more of an emotional impact than you would’ve ever expected, and the same is true here. I was really rooting for our heroes to get out of this mess. It’s not a rapid fire joke-joke-joke comedy, but it has lots of laughs throughout and the performances are great. Lots of edge-of-your-seat suspense throughout.
On Facebook I posted that this was my favorite horror/comedy since Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil. Then I thought, wait, what about You’re Next? But You’re Next loses points for that horrible, horrible shaky-cam, whereas in The Shower (whose shots were almost all filmed in one or two takes) all of the action sequences are perfectly coherent! It’s exactly the kind of movie you hope to see at a film festival like this; something where you want to grab people and scream, “You HAVE to see this!!!”
The awards ceremony was next, where Lynne Hansen won the Filmmaker to Watch award, and cried during her acceptance. A lot.
After that, the call for Buffalo wings couldn’t be ignored…well, at least not until after John Renna and Julian Dickman’s short film Sepulcher. It’s the zombie apocalypse and five co-workers trapped in a room decide (well, some of them do) that there are better ways to die than being ripped apart by the living dead. The suicide logistics are not as easy to work out as you might think. Hopefully next year at this time I’ll get to see John Renna and Sam Qualiana’s feature Dick Johnson & Tommygun Vs. the Cannibal Cop.
The festival had another four days left, so I didn’t get to see Drew Bialy in Road Test on the big screen, though my blurb (“Laugh-out-loud hilarious!”) did make it onto the poster. I’d seen it before Drew was cast in Gave Up The Ghost, and you can see it here, with the WARNING that it contains A LOT OF CURSING.
And so we departed Buffalo, sad to leave, thinking, “Y’know, it wasn’t as cold as it was last year, and there was no snow–we should’ve stayed another couple of weeks! Nothing bad could have come from that!”
Big-time thanks to Greg Lamberson and festival co-director Chris Scioli, for putting on a show that is easily one of the best I’ve ever attended. Lots of people agree with me. Bookmark the official site and make plans for 2015. You too can make fun of the way I stack bones!