Rhode Island International Film Festival Horrorfest (October 23-26)
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Last weekend I had the great pleasure of being invited by George Marshall, Executive Director/CEO of The Rhode Island International Film Festival to attend their 9th Annual Horrorfest taking place in five theaters throughout Providence over three days. I attended those at the Columbus Theater, a grand old movie house, gilded with the patina of having seen at least 80 years of films and now a perfect venue for any art film festival, and that’s how I would describe the RIFF event; artsy, independent and often fierce the choices of films shown. Given the short time I had to attend any screenings, I did manage to find a few gems and get a feel for Mr. Marshall’s commitment to helping make worthy small, independent, foreign and often, low budget horror films accessible to the general public to which they might not have been exposed otherwise. And what a refreshing experience it was. Tired of the last fifteen years of big budget Metroplex runs of bloated remakes, gratuitous and graphically violent films masquerading as horror to appease the tastes of the uninitiated teenager? Then go to next year’s 10th Annual Horrorfest. The RIFF takes a brave stance in supporting small films without the promotional clout of studio backing but that nonetheless pack a wallop of creativity, both visual and intellectual. The antithesis of the “junk food” offered at the local mega theaters, the films chosen for this years Horrorfest presented a meaty banquet of wide and varied courses, some spicy, some sweet but all ( at least of those I personally viewed) leaving me full of thought, imagination and questions and ready for my brandy and cigar.
For me the appetizer was a little Japanese film (with subtitles) called HAIR EXTENSIONS. When I sat down I half expected a knock off of “The Grudge” from a few years back, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Hair Extensions is a neatly packaged and highly stylized film with a simple plot A scientific madman uses a woman’s dead body as sort of a “hair farm,” growing long black wads of hair out of her every orifice. He then harvests the hair to sell to local beauty shops with . . . far reaching results. Even better than the horror plot is the second plot involving a pair of sisters, one good and the other not so good, and the abused child the bad sister abandons to the good one. The special effects will dazzle your eyes and make your skin crawl at the same time while the abused child subplot will break your heart to the point where you just can’t wait for the child beating “bad” sister to get her . . . hair done. Don’t miss this one. I loved it.
Next, I saw a short subject filming of H. P. Lovecraft’s Pickman’s Model with the feel of a student film experiment. The acting was like bad TV and the photography like a Polaroid Point and Shoot, BUT, it had something indefinable that made it come together and creep me out. It could have been the mannered theater like acting of the lead playing Pickman, or the murky, grainy, almost sepia toned coloring of the film but it undeniably delivered its goose bumps. For this, I’d have to give credit to the director, Gary Fierro, and lead actor who, even with all the flaws of this filming, will both with any luck will become polished into artists of merit in their future efforts. I would call this one an aperitif, short and sweet but with a nice kick. Good job guys, next time I hope you get a bigger budget to flex with.
Following the very short Pickman’s Model, I had the good fortune to have the time to see the film that followed; a modern silent filming of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulu, a famous and thus familiar tale of lost civilization, cult worshippers and dark obsession. Kitschy and sometimes corny, this “Call of Cthulu” seemed like an exercise in form over substance, very artistically shot with a nice 1920’s period feel giving the impression one gets of a piece of parchment held over a candle but with a downside of leaving the viewer coming away still waiting for a slamming pay-off. In the end the creators and director Andrew Leman proved they could make an eye catching, almost hypnotizing looking film but one that leaves the viewer at the end asking “Where the hell is the MONSTER?”
My next and final foray into the RIFF’s vault of horror was for the Saturday night premier of SEA OF DUST, but you’ll have to look at my full review posted earlier for that one. All in all, I can only praise Mr. Marshall for his dedication not only to artistic expression in general but to his clear love and appreciation for the art of horror film making and I can’t wait to see what he comes up with for next year, Surf & Turf? I’m there!