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Monday
Mar212016

NEW WAVE OF HORROR HITS PALM BEACH FILM FEST

Under the stewardship of new CEO/President Jeff Davis, the 21st Palm Beach International Film Festival represents a defining period in the event’s history. The relatively young celebration of cinema seems poised to join the ranks of Cannes, Venice and Toronto, with whom it shares accreditation status. One key initiative in 2016 is an international strand of horror titles; ten films from seven countries that announce PBIFF as a major new platform for global genre works. Having settled into the 250-seat Palm Beach Theatre in Manalapan, Florida in 2015, patrons can expect to be thoroughly unsettled by Director of Programming Larry Richman’s impressive line-up of shockers. “The 21st PBIFF is all about fresh ideas and new directions,” says Richman, whose insight you’ll find below in our preview of the 2016 PBIFF Horror Film roster…

THE FOREST (Dir: Paul Spurrier / Thailand; 109 mins / Trailer / pictured, above): A new teacher (Asanee Suwan) establishes a bond with a mute student (Wannasa Wintawong) that leads to a terrifying, yet moving lesson in life. The first westerner to have directed a Thai-language film (P, 2005), Spurrier works elements of fantasy and the supernatural into his dark tale of redemption and revenge.

THE PERFECT HUSBAND (Dir: Lucas Pavetto / Italy; 85 mins / Trailer): Having wowed the genre festival circuit with his short film Il Marito Perfetto, Argentine-born/Italian-bred director Lucas Pavetto developed the concept into this feature-length work. A cabin-in-the-woods weekend for a young, struggling married couple (Gabriella Wright, pictured; Bret Roberts) turns particularly horrific.

THE PHOENIX INCIDENT (Dir: Keith Arem / USA; 84 mins): Combining a found-footage aesthetic, docu-drama elements and some good ol’ fashioned alien abduction lore, Keith Arem’s offers a visually arresting reimagining of certain ‘facts’ in relation to the March 13, 1997 mass UFO sighting in Phoenix. If you still have an ‘I Want to Believe’ poster in your man-cave, this is a must-see.

“I'm a huge genre fan. While I've been with the festival for several years, it was a change in management this year under new President and CEO Jeff Davis which allowed us to create a category for horror and a cash prize competition, to boot,” says Richmann, whose entertainment industry experience includes long stints in commercial radio, the tech sector and online journalism; he founded larry411.com and became a respected film festival regular as contributor for the highly-respected Indie Film Spotlight.

INTERIOR (Dir: Zachary Beckler / USA; 83 mins / Trailer / pictured, right): Carrying before it a wave of insider buzz, Zachary Beckler suburban ghost-story introduces a sly sense of humour and genuine chills to the ‘paranormal investigation’ genre. It also introduces a franchise-worthy entity in Emily, the spirited central spectre of the writer/director’s chiller.

BUBBA THE REDNECK WEREWOLF (Dir: Brendan Rogers / USA; 80  mins / Trailer): Brendan Rogers aims for instant cult status in his low-budget/low-IQ comedy/horror about a hillbilly lycanthrope and the townsfolk who bestow upon him (anti)hero status. Looks and feels a bit like the Troma classic, The Toxic Avenger (a good thing, right?)

MASKOUN (Dirs: Krystle Houiess, Sharif Abdunnur / UAE; 91 mins / Trailer): Combining both raw handheld footage with a richer, more complex film craft, the film industries of the Middle East offer a rare genre work in this chilling tale of paranormal incursion and past life manifestations from directors Krystle Houiess and Sharif Abdunnur. Advance word and plot details are shrouded in well-staged ambiguity, but anticipation is high.

“A lot of my inspiration comes from Colin Geddes, who programs the 10-film Midnight Madness section of the Toronto International Film Festival, and Tim League at Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, two festivals which led me to PBIFF,” acknowledges Richmann, who also acts as PBIFF’s Executive Vice President.

THE KEY (Dir: Gedeon Burkhard / Germany; 90 mins / Trailer): Mashing gangster thrills, rampaging undead and farmhouse horror tropes and staged at an insanely high pitch, German actor/director Gedeon Burkhard’s The Key is a frantic, fierce and funny splatter feature with a legitimate shot at ‘midnight movie’ cult status.

PEELERS (Dir: Sevé Schelenz / Canada; 95 mins / Trailer) WORLD PREMIERE: Having announced his fearless talent with 2011’s Skew, Sevé Schelenz doubles-down on the humour and gore in Peelers. The last night of trading at a remote strip joint goes bad when infected patrons start turning on each other. Lots of blood, lots of boobs, lots of fun.

LAND OF SMILES (Dir: Bradley Stryker / Canada; 95 mins / Trailer): Not all is as idyllic as it would appear in Bradley Stryker’s hell-in-paradise opus, Land of Smiles. In Thailand to repair a broken friendship, Abby (Alelexandra Turshen; pictured, right) becomes a pawn in a sociopath’s twisted cat-and-mouse game; if she refuses to follow the psycho’s instructions, footage of her friend being tortured will grow alarmingly worse. But is all as it really seems…?

THE HOUSE AT THE END OF TIME (Dir: Alejandro Hidalgo / Venezuela; 100 mins): Redemption and revenge for past sins are themes that feature in several of the horror works on offer. Venezuelan filmmaker Alejandro Hidalgo’s supremely stylish ghost story examines a crime of infanticide at the hands of a malevolent spirit and a wrongly imprisoned mother (a terrific Ruddy Rodríguez) determined to reveal the truth. Already a festival circuit favourite; earned Best Picture honours from Screamfest.

“We're not TIFF or Fantastic Fest but we can certainly aspire to have a killer horror program and these 10 films represent some of the best of what's being produced in 2016,” Richmann states.

The Palm Beach International Film Festival runs April 6-14. All ticketing and venue information can be found at the event’s official website

Tuesday
Jan262016

SLASH 'N' GRAB: IF HORROR FILMS WON OSCARS...

With the film world barking about lack of diversity come awards season, SCREEN-SPACE thought it was time redress another imbalance that has sullied AMPAS since the Academy Awards came into being. Horror films rarely get a look in; some breakout hits force their way into contention (The Exorcist; Jaws; The Sixth Sense), but the legacy of their B-movie origins and often challenging content usually relegates the blood-soaked monster/slasher/supernatural pics of international cinema to the critical fringe.

So below are a handful of horror cinema’s greatest artisans, dating back as far 1922, who should have been in the mix when Oscars trophies were bestowed*. With respect to The Academy voters, some included here were recognised (Ruth Gordon’s Supporting Actress win for Rosemary’s Baby), but most were glaring omissions. We can’t mention all deserved contenders (sorry devotees of the Friday the 13th franchise), so please join our celebration by weighing in with your favourite Oscar no-shows from the world of horror…

BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
WINNER: Piper Laurie in Carrie
Nominees: Vanessa Redgrave in The Devils; Lee Remick in The Omen; Eihi Shiina in Audition; Beatrice Dalle in Inside.
In contention: Veronica Cartwright in Invasion of The Body Snatchers (also The Witches of Eastwick, The Birds and Alien); Barbara Crampton in From Beyond (also Re-Animator); Heather Donahue in The Blair Witch Project; Natasha Henstridge in Species; Desiree Gould for Sleepaway Camp; Beatrice Manowski for Nekromantik; Samantha Eggar in The Brood; Ruth Gordon in Rosemary’s Baby.

BEST ACTRESS
WINNER: Jobeth Williams in Poltergeist
Nominees: Dee Wallace in Cujo (also The Howling); Sigourney Weaver in Alien; Deborah Kerr in The Innocents; Isabelle Adjani in Possession.
In contention: Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby; Cecile de France in Haute Tension; Candace Hilligoss in Carnival of Souls; Nicole Kidman in The Others; Elsa Lanchester in The Bride of Frankenstein; Essie Davis in The Babadook; Sissy Spacek in Carrie; Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween.

BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
WINNER: Robert Shaw in Jaws
Nominees: Robert Englund in A Nightmare on Elm Street; Doug Jones in Pan’s Labyrinth; Bela Lugosi in The Black Cat; Griffin Dunne in An American Werewolf in London.
In contention: Max Von Sydow in The Exorcist (also Hour of The Wolf); Gunnar Hansen in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre; Tom Towles in Henry: Portrait of A Serial Killer; Bill Paxton for Near Dark; Mantan Moreland in Lucky Ghost; Doug Bradley in Hellraiser; Keith David in The Thing (and They Live); Rutger Hauer in The Hitcher.

BEST ACTOR
WINNER: Jeff Goldblum in The Fly
Nominees: Duane Jones in Night of The Living Dead; Christopher Lee in Dracula; Bruce Campbell in Evil Dead 2; Anthony Perkins in Psycho.
In contention: Vincent Price in House of Wax (also Masque of The Red Death and Witchfinder General); Kevin McCarthy in Invasion of The Body Snatchers.; Jack Nance in Eraserhead; Joe Spinelli for Maniac!; Tony Todd in Candyman; Christopher Walken in The Dead Zone; Sam Neill in In The Mouth of Madness (also Possession and Event Horizon); Jeffery Coombs in Re-Animator.

BEST DIRECTOR
WINNER: Jacques Tourneur for Cat People (also The Leopard Man, I Walked With a Zombie and Night of The Demon)
Nominees: David Cronenberg for The Fly; Dario Argento for Suspiria; William Friedkin for The Exorcist; Michael Powell for Peeping Tom.
In contention: Joe Dante for The Howling; Wes Craven for A Nightmare on Elm Street (also Last House on The Left, Scream and The Hills Have Eyes); Pascal Laugier for Martyrs; Adrian Lyne for Jacob’s Ladder; Larry Cohen for God Told Me To; Guillermo Del Toro for Pan’s Labyrinth; David Robert Mitchell for It Follows; Ti West for House of The Devil (and The Innkeepers); Roman Polanski for The Tenant (and Rosemary’s Baby); Mario Bava for Kill, Baby…Kill!; Jonathon Glazer for Under The Skin; Hideo Nakata for The Ring (Ringu); Steven Spielberg for Jaws; James Whale for Frankenstein; Robert Wise for The Haunting.

BEST FILM
WINNER: Martyrs
Nominees: The Exorcist; Dead of Night (1945); Poltergeist; Let The Right One In
In contention: Psycho; A Nightmare on Elm Street; Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages; Nosferatu – eine Symphonie des Grauens; The Shining; The Texas Chainsaw Massacre; Eyes Without a Face; Jaws; The Fly; Dawn of the Dead; Santa Sangre; The Thing; Alien; Kwaidan; King Kong. 

*The first Oscars ceremony was held in 1929, so some films were not eligible for nomination and have been included out of respect to their status.

Monday
Aug172015

BORN AGAIN: THE BRYN TILLY INTERVIEW

A fascination for the macabre courses through the veins of Bryn Tilly. Between penning horror short stories and overseeing the popular website Cult Projections, the Sydney-based New Zealand expat has been shipping his film, the vampire-themed short Umbra, to genre festivals worldwide. The surreal work has impressed fest organisers; having wowed Australian audiences at underground showings in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane, the global rollout starts August 27 when it screens in London’s Film4 Frightfest, followed by a prestigious slot at SITGES 2015 in October.

SCREEN-SPACE sat down with the director and good friend (pictured, below) to recount his film’s journey from its no-budget origins in chilly Wellington to the horror industry mecca on Spain's sunny Catalan coast…

You are open about Umbra's past, and that this edit is a reworked, condensed version of footage shot in 93 under the title Penumbra. What brought about the resurrection?

After Penumbra was completed I shelved the film, only bringing out the VHS copy when I was drunkenly nostalgic and feeling a little tragic. There was some great imagery and genuinely atmospheric moments in the film. I began wondering if there was a way of salvaging those moments, of re-harnessing that vision. In early 2014, I invited my friend, editor Michael O’Rourke, to help bring it back to life. We judiciously cut it from half an hour down to just over five minutes, removing virtually all the dialogue and many elaborately shot scenes, yet still managed to keep the overall narrative arc. We treated the image, adding film scratches and grain, intending it to look like a lost Euro-horror from the late 70s/early 80s. My brother, Miles and I composed a new score. And I shortened the title from Penumbra (meaning “half-shadow”) to Umbra, which was perfect as it means “shadow”, but also “phantom” or “spectre”. The new film had finally captured the atmosphere and tone I had originally envisioned.

Were there key technical issues that had to be addressed when working with footage shot 22 years ago?

I had to locate the original master tape, since all I had was a steadily deteriorating VHS copy. After unearthing the U-matic master cut - yes, it was shot on three-quarter inch U-matic videotape, an almost forgotten format! - I had the footage digitized; thankfully I managed to find a service that still had a U-matic player. Although the tape appeared to be in okay condition and “baking” wasn’t required, the digitized footage did reveal weathering had occurred. Michael and I decided that the lo-fi look could work in the film’s favour, especially with the recent trend of retro-designed horror movies.

How hard was it for the happily married 40-something father of 2015 to reconnect with such darkness? Describe the experience of revisiting a vision created by a much younger version of yourself...

I’ve been a fan of dark horror and science fiction tales since I was a boy. Doctor Who’s The Ark in Space on TV in 1975 left a strong impression. Then there were the rather nihilistic and genuinely nightmarish experiences of The Omen and Alien on VHS when I was around ten or eleven, all dealing with birth/death/rebirth. When I wrote Penumbra, it was intended as a dark and macabre vampire tale. I wanted Umbra to be tenebrous, but I wanted it to be very dreamlike, surreal, invoking a kind of fever dream. Essentially the older me favoured a more subtle, expressionist approach, and it was a joy to see that Umbra reflected my truer influences as a filmmaker, even though most of my favourite vampire films now are the same ones I had when I shot Penumbra. (Pictured, above and below; scenes from Umbra)  

You open with a Poe quote that addresses the line between the present and the beyond. How does the film represent your beliefs in the afterlife and the mythology of immortality?

 I’m an atheist and a skeptic, but I’m a diehard horror romantic, especially when it comes to the supernatural. I want to believe. I love the essence of vampirism, the dual curse/gift of immortality, the sensualism and the fragility. What I especially love about the Poe quote is its ambiguity; it’s not just about the reality of life and death, it’s about the powerful fabric of dreams and nightmares.

Some imagery recalls Neil Jordan's Interview with the Vampire. You’ve mentioned Alien, The Omen, Doctor Who; what other authors/artists/filmmakers influenced you?

 Certainly Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire and The Vampire Lestat were big influences back in 1993. There was a cutaway in the original that showed a bookcase with Interview on it. Murnau’s creepy 1922 classic Nosferatu and Herzog’s haunting 1979 remake were inspirations. Whilst editing Umbra, the works referenced most were David Lynch’s Lost Highway and Dario Argento’s Suspiria and Inferno. I love their oneiric application, the dreamlike atmosphere and nightmare logic. Less obviously, French extremist Gaspar Noe influenced me, with his a penchant for pushing the camera into the darker corners.

It features a rich, vividly ambient soundscape. Describe the intent and intricacies of its construction...

 I had co-composed an original soundtrack for the 1993 production but I knew the new film needed new music. I wanted it to have a lush, dreamy vibe, but at the same time capture an ominous and menacing tone; reminiscent of the stuff Trent Reznor has been doing for movies. Miles and I have been collaborating on electronic music together for more than ten years. We took a brooding techno track we had already recorded and put it through a time-stretch software program, which slows the music down. We singled out the best sections, and then Michael and I layered those pieces into the film along with a few of the original sound design cues.

And Umbra's own re-emergence, it's own rebirth? What is its point-of-difference that has seen become a 2015 horror festival favourite?

 It is a narrative short with no dialogue, relying on stylised, almost iconic imagery. The pronounced ambient soundscape is an invisible character, intensifying the mood. Most significantly, the look of the film is a aesthetically lo-fi in a world saturated with High Definition. This grungy aspect enhances the nightmare edge, pulling the viewer into a mysterious yet strangely inviting place. Umbra looks and feels different than many of its contemporaries, but surreptitiously bridges the present and the past. It has a curious history, as a vampire film brought back from the dead. It has been reborn.

Umbra teaser trailer from Cult Projections on Vimeo.

Friday
May222015

BIRDMAN: THE JON HEWITT INTERVIEW

When veteran producer Anthony I Ginnane sought a like-minded filmmaker to helm the reboot of his 1982 shocker, Turkey Shoot, Jon Hewitt must have been near the top of his wish list. A country lad who cites Russ Meyer, Abel Ferrara and the Aussie biker classic Stone as key influences, Hewitt has forged a bloody, sweat-stained reputation as a fearless auteur over three decades in the Australian indie sector; his films include the notorious ‘video nasty’, Bloodlust (1992; co-directed with fellow ‘underground icon’, Richard Wolstencroft); the grisly procedural, Redball (1999); a seedy romantic thriller, darklovestory (2006); the psychological drama, Acolytes (2008), with a memorable serial killer turn by Joel Edgerton; and the Kings Cross odyssey, X (2011). Turkey Shoot, his fifth feature collaboration with actress/writer wife Belinda McClory, allows Hewitt to cast his acutely critical eye over the modern media landscape; it stars Dominic Purcell (pictured, below; with co-star Robert Taylor). Having debuted to sellout crowds at the 2014 Melbourne International Film Festival, Hewitt spoke to SCREEN-SPACE as his violent reimagining launches on home entertainment platforms…

How favourably did the original film lend itself to an update? What elements still held relevance in 2015 and what had to be jettisoned?

We're more reinvention than remake. Apart from a few in-jokes, character names and the title, the reboot's similarity to the original is most found in its broad themes, verve and spirit. We're a neo-exploitation film that tries to deliver to its target audience while having a bit of social and political meat on its bones. The original plays as very camp in 2015, but in 1980 it resonated as outrageous, political and satirical – so we were trying for a bit of that.

Was the incredible 'life cycle' of the original film - pilloried Ozploitation shocker to Tarantino-lauded cult classic - ever a monkey on your back?

No, that sort of thing really helped in getting the reboot into production, and is also very useful in terms of selling the film internationally and marketing it into various territories. Some fans might be disappointed that the reboot is not a literal blow for blow retelling, or is not more of a knowing and outrageous homage to schlock in the style of something like Hobo With a Shotgun, but we reckon they'll come around...eventually. (pictured, right; Hewitt)

You satirise modern media in a similar manner to that employed by Paul Verhoeven in the original Robocop film; there are also clear nods to films such as Schwarzennegger's Running Man. What were some inspirations (films, books, modern politics) that were factored into the re-conceptualizing of Turkey Shoot?

We can only aspire to the effectiveness of those movies! Running Man was the obvious foundation influence for Jon, as Logan’s Run was for Belinda. We don't believe the reboot is set in a dystopian future; the world is like that right now. The news media and YouTube currently have the franchise for live death on television, but packaged entertainment is getting closer, if it's not doing it already. The constant state of war we're in now was a major factor. We believe wars aren't fought for the sovereignty of countries or ideologies anymore. They're fought to produce content for the key media corporations.

Your films have tackled B-movie subject matter but in a ‘real world’, intellectually engaging way - serial killer mindplay in Acolytes; prostitution in X. Did Turkey Shoot 'free you up' somewhat? Did it feel like a more no-holds-barred approach to genre cinema for you?

Yes, it was certainly and opportunity to return to a Bloodlust-style exploitation logistic where stuff like cheesiness and schlock are important elements in the aesthetic and can be gleefully mined and underlined.

Lead actor Dominic Purcell (pictured, above) applies a very stoic, Charles Bronson-like stillness to your hero, which is at odds with the legendarily OTT work of Steve Railsback in the original. Tell us about creating the character with your lead actor.

Dom's a big guy – six two and built like a buff brick shithouse – so his screen presence resonates with physicality and menace. He doesn't have to say or do anything to make you believe he can kick your arse, so we played on that a lot. Dom's a very fine classically trained actor who can deliver in the dialogue department, but his ego and confidence is such that he's also cool not to say too much. We wanted our hero to be a presence so if we've gotten anywhere near Bronson, then we're stoked.

Finally, working with Anthony I Ginnane (pictured, right), a producer who possesses an often under-valued sense of showmanship in everything he does. What does he bring to a production after all his years in the game? What do you think is his greatest contribution to Australian cinema?

The reboot of Turkey Shoot was Tony's 67th production, almost all of them feature films. That's an extraordinary CV. And he's made the great bulk of his movies in the real world where soft money* is a minor, if any, part of the financial structure. That makes him very different from most other Australian producers. He also works incredibly hard, and once he's committed to a project he just won't let go – he literally wills it into production. Yes, he's criminally undervalued in Australia because he chooses to work mainly in the realm of genre, but a lot of his films still resonate and continue to influence filmmaking down-under. (*industry term for 'government supplied production funds')

Jon Hewitt’s Turkey Shoot is available on DVD, Blu-ray and digital download in Australia through Potential Films. Check local schedules for release dates in international territories.

Monday
Mar302015

SHORT CUTS: HORROR HEAVIES PACT ON ANTHOLOGY PROJECT

They are two of Australia’s genre giants. With the 9th edition of his iconic screamfest due later this year, Dr Dean Bertram is the founder and programming director of A Night of Horror/Fantastic Planet Film Festival (ANOH/FP); producer Enzo Tedeschi, CEO of the recently-launched Deadhouse Films, reinvigorated found-footage horror with the global 2011 hit, The Tunnel. Now, the long time friends are pairing on a feature film initiative that will ensure the worlds best horror short films are seen by a bigger audience than ever before…

Set to be unveiled at the 2015 event will be a feature-length anthology film, comprised of the finalists from a new category in which all submissions must, in some way, reflect the theme of ‘blood.’ “That isn't that much of a stretch in a horror film, of course,” Bertram (pictured, above) concedes. “We don't expect the films to necessarily be about blood, just for blood to appear or to be referenced somewhere.”

The idea emerged as the 2014 festival drew to a close. “Enzo pitched me the idea and I thought it was just fantastic,” says Bertram, talking to SCREEN-SPACE from the US. “There's a renaissance in horror anthology filmmaking taking place at the moment: think The ABCs of Death and VHS series, for example.” The concept was particularly appropriate given Bertram’s dedication to fledgling talent. “To open the doors to include emerging filmmakers in the project fits A Night of Horror's mandate perfectly,” he says. 

“I'm personally a fan of anthologies,” says Tedeschi (pictured, right), during a break from a sound mix session in Sydney’s north, “and I thought it could be a valuable way of helping filmmakers leverage their short into something more 'valuable', for lack of a better word. “ Tedeschi was also aware that many fine short films never find the audience they deserve and hopes the project helps to redress the imbalance. “With the (high) quality of films screening at the festival each year, it seemed like a natural approach to pitch the idea to Dean for A Night of Horror. When I was getting started with making short films, a guaranteed festival berth and a feature film credit would have been a big incentive for me to contribute to a project like this.”

The pair are being cagey about the structure that their as-yet-untitled co-production will adopt. When asked for insight into the narrative device that will bind the collection of shorts, Tedeschi says, “We're keeping that under wraps for now,” although he does concede that they may be influenced by the submissions. Bertram acknowledges that, “Enzo has come up with a fantastic wrap-around device to connect the films, but we're keeping it secret at the moment.“

Both men are energetic multi-hyphenates, each with several projects in various stages of development. Tedeschi is in the final stages of post-production on his highly-anticipated sci-fi series, Airlock; Bertram is in pre-production as producer on Virgin Forest, the latest feature from festival alumni Kerry Prior (The Revenant, 2009; pictured, left, with Bertram and ANOH/FP co-director, Lisa Mitchell). Their shared vision stems from a mutual admiration for each other’s talent and career achievements to date.

“The reason I was so enthused to collaborate had as much to do with Enzo's fantastic pitch as having the chance to produce something with him,” says Bertram. “He always has his finger dead-on the pulse of the genre zeitgeist and its audience. And he understands alternative and unique models of production and distribution better than anyone in the country.” The emergence of Deadhouse Films, which will take distribution rights on the project, was also crucial to Bertram’s involvement. “(It has) really filled a massive hole in the Australian industry for a boutique genre production and distribution company. I can see it bringing a sea-change to independent genre film distribution,” he says.

For Tedeschi, his experiences as an audience member at A Night of Horror for much of the past decade was evidence enough. “I've always found the festival program a wonderful mix of established filmmakers and fresh takes on the genre. Dean goes out of his way to find the gems, and we should be able to attract some of this for the anthology as a result. I'm very much looking forward to going over the submissions with him. It's going to be a blast!”

Further information on how to submit your short film can be found here.