This past weekend, my wife Lynne Hansen and I drove from Tampa, Florida to Columbus, Ohio for the first annual Nightmares Film Festival. Was it worth it? (Spoiler: Yes. It was one of the best film festivals we’ve ever attended.)
Day One, Wednesday, basically just involved getting up ridiculously early and driving all day, with a brief stop for gross barbecue. We made it to Berea, Kentucky, in enough time to watch a candidate for president of the United States say “No puppet! No puppet! You’re the puppet!”
Day Two, Thursday, we finished up the drive and made it to the Gateway Film Center. One of the first things I noticed was that they had a poster for the 1981 obscurity The Pit, possibly my favorite bad horror movie. Then I realized that, next month, they’ll actually be playing The Pit! What kind of mad genius of a programming director goes with The Pit? I quickly began to realize that the Gateway might be the coolest theater ever.
We met Nightmares Film Festival co-director Jason Tostevin, who was enthusiastic and cheerful the entire weekend, despite the fact that he was running a film festival and was thus entitled to be exhausted and filled with rage. Co-director Chris Hamel also seemed to be in ridiculously good spirits the entire time. After a surprisingly good meal in The Torpedo Room (a small bar/restaurant in the theater), the movies began.
The very first film was the one I most wanted to see: Plank Face. This is because it was directed by Scott Schirmer, whose movie Found is one of my favorite horror flicks of the 21st century. And Plank Face did not disappoint. It is one dark, deranged, sick-minded movie that benefitted greatly from me not knowing much about it. It quickly set the tone for this festival; as it turned out, there were PLENTY of dark, deranged, sick-minded movies to come!
Up next was ABC’s of Death 2.5, a compilation of 26 of the contest entries where filmmakers had the chance to be included in ABC’s of Death 2. I loved almost all of ’em, especially the one that was essentially Mad Max: Fury Road on Big Wheels, and this was apparently the only time 2.5 had been screened in a theater.
And then it was the Horror Comedy Shorts block, which was technically the reason we were there, since “Chomp” was included. I’d seen some of them already, like “Knob Goblins” and “The Barber’s Cut,” but there were plenty of new-to-me winners like “Connie” (an introverted female stand-up comedian becomes a star when she adds a foul-mouthed living ventriloquist doll to her act) and “Death Metal” (essentially just a series of gore moments, but funny as hell).
The night ended with Quad X, a mockumentary about a serial killer going after porn stars. The movie had lots of big laughs, and ironically, a movie about the porn business was one of the least graphic of the festival!
Day Three, Friday. A friend I hadn’t seen since high school, Jennifer Burke, lives in town, so we went out to breakfast. We were in several plays together. Since Jennifer could act, she got large roles. Since I could not act, but an insufficient number of guys auditioned, I usually ended up with 2 or 3 small parts.
I missed #Screamers but was told by multiple sources that it was one of the best found footage movies ever. But I was there for the world premiere of Pitchfork, which starts off as an above-average slasher flick but gets even better as it goes into more demented territory.
Then it was the first block of Thriller Shorts. It was a consistently strong block of films, though “Monsters” (which I’d already seen) was the standout, with a punch-to-the-gut ending.
Acclaimed horror author Kealan Patrick Burke lives in town, so we met him at World of Beer. I only got to talk to him very briefly the first time I met him, at Necon, so it was great to hang out at length, talk about the world of horror writing and book cover design, and have him be a bad influence.
Andrew Thorne, VP of Marketing at the Junior Library Guild, picked me up and I went with him and his two sons to Dirty Franks Hot Dog Palace. Ohhhhh yeah. That’s the stuff. I got the brisket and slaw dog and the Dog From Hell. There were eight or nine others I wanted to try, including the Slappy Pappy’s Super Sloppy, but there are only so many hot dogs one can consume in polite company.
Day Four, Saturday, we arrived bright and early for one of the Horror Shorts blocks. “Happy Birthday, Brenda” was my favorite of the ones I hadn’t seen, although I never get sick of “Night of the Slasher.”
We missed She Was So Pretty in favor of lunch, though people were going nuts for it during the post-screening Q&A, so clearly that was a poor decision. Should’ve just had popcorn.
The first Midnight Shorts block was a great series of films, though not nearly as f**ked up as you’d expect from midnight shorts. (The second block, which I didn’t see, contained the film “Gwilliam,” so maybe they saved the really insane stuff for that one.)
“Chomp” was a finalist for Best Horror Comedy, but was unlikely to win, so we sat near the back for the Nightmares Film Festival Awards. In a shocking twist, “Chomp” did win, so Lynne had a much longer walk up to the front of the theater to deliver her tearful speech. The award was designed by the guy who built the molds for the new Star Wars action figures, so writhe in jealousy!!!
Next was a block of Horror Shorts, including the amazing short “The Babysitter Murders.” It’s basically a slasher flick if you fast-forwarded to the last 15 minutes, with a truly sinister ending.
After that was the feature The Barn, a really fun, gory Halloween flick…and also the last semblance of normalcy left in the evening.
Because next up was Night of the Virgin, a Spanish film that starts off as a funny, quirky, engaging film, but one where you’re not necessarily thinking “The people who made this are out of their freaking minds!!!” By the end, it’s gone from “funny” to “laugh out loud hysterical,” from “quirky” to “unbelievably weird,” and from “engaging” to “you can’t look away because you can’t believe what the hell you’re seeing.” Holy crap, what a movie.
And then Night of Something Strange, which starts with some light necrophilia and builds to…well, not stuff you thought you’d see in a motion picture. Ladies and gentlemen, this movie is unrelentingly, hilariously insane. The back-to-back screenings of Night of the Virgin and Night of Something Strange may be the most over-the-top double feature I’ve ever seen. Kudos to the Nightmares Film Festival for breaking my brain.
My broken brain was not ready for the 2:00 AM Late Night Mind F**k, and the whole experimental film nature of “Law of Sodom” exceeded my threshold for weirdness for the night, so it was back to the hotel…
…to return early on Day Five, Sunday, for the second Thriller Shorts block. It was another consistently strong set of films, especially “Mauvaises Tetes (Bad Heads).”
Next was Diary of a Deadbeat, a fascinating documentary about underground filmmaker Jim Van Bebber. I haven’t seen any of his movies, but that must now be rectified. (“Gator Green” was shot locally, but I was out of town when it screened here.)
Then, Frankenstein Created Bikers, which followed the previous night’s trend of insanely over-the-top features. If the first year is indicative of the kind of programming that we’ll see in years to come, I expect to be a Nightmares Film Festival regular.
Dinner break! I’d done a webinar with Leslie Bermel of Junior Library Guild a couple of weeks ago, but I’d never met her in person, so we chowed down on Mexican food. If there’d been more time, a return trip to Dirty Franks would’ve been in order, but in this cold, cruel world, you can’t always get what you want.
Then the world premiere of Rhyme Slaya, a wildly entertaining slasher flick in the world of hip-hop, with lots of laughs and one doozy of a body count.
I’d expected the “Who Did Negan Kill?” cliffhanger to be completely spoiled for me, but no, The Walking Dead season premiere was playing on the big screen for free! So I got to watch it with a large crowd, hearing the loud sighs of frustration each time the show went to a commercial break without revealing the answer, and hearing the audience freak out at the moment that Entertainment Weekly is going to spoil right on its cover, because Entertainment Weekly doesn’t give a crap.
And that was it. We said our tearful goodbyes and marveled at the fact that the Nightmares Film Festival HAD NO TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES. That almost never happens! Film Festivals are usually jam-packed with technical difficulties. The only other film festival I can think of that didn’t have any glitches was Nevermore at the Carolina Theater. Crazy!!!
The next morning, we got up and drove all the way home. Nightmares Film Festival was worth every one of the 1020 miles it took to get there, even the ones we had to drive with a crack slowly spreading across the windshield after a rock hit it. That part sucked. Everything else was awesome.