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by Thomas M. Sipos, managing editor [October 4, 2010]
[HollywoodInvestigator.com]Maybe it's the poor economy, but very few comedic horror films were submitted to the 2010 Tabloid Witch Awards -- the Hollywood Investigator's annual No Entry Fee horror film contest. Film entries overwhelmingly featured dramatic horror. Few filmmakers are feeling very funny right now.
This year's winning films came from the United States, Canada, England, Spain, and Argentina -- the same as last year with the exception of Ireland, which won a Tabloid Witch in 2009, but not this year.
Interviews with winning filmmakers will appear in the Investigator over the coming months. A screening of new and previous winning films will be held on October 29th and 30th at Santa Monica's Miles Memorial Playhouse. The exact selections and scheduling is currently being determined.
The Investigator is also in talks with the World Horror Convention about a possible "best of" screening at the 2011 WHC, as the Tabloid Witch did in 2008 and 2009.
Among its many merits, Devi Snively's 15 minute horror short is commendably original. No zombies, slashers, vampires, or even Japanese inspired ghosts. It's not even clear whether Death in Charge is a comedy or a drama. Its funny moments are balanced against those of dark poignancy. Death in Charge is unique.
In a deceptively simple tale, the Grim Reaper arrives at a single mother's home and is mistaken for the babysitter. The Reaper's long black cloak is accepted as normal teenage "goth" attire. While she babysits, the Reaper (played by Marina Benedict) bonds with a jaded little girl (Kylie Chalfa), who fantasizes killing her mother. Yet the ending is unexpected.
Although it's hard to categorize Death in Charge, its ultimately dark ending pushes it away from comedy, earning it this year's Best Dramatic Horror Short Film Tabloid Witch Award.
Contributing mightily to the film's emotional force is Marina Benedict's strikingly original portrayal of the Grim Reaper. Her Reaper is ethereal, almost spacey; a reaper who's not quite "on the ball" and perhaps sympathizes overmuch with her victims, but who nevertheless accomplishes her tasks with somber, even "grim," determination.
Benedict's performance wins her 2010's Best Actress Tabloid Witch.
Comedic horror goes in cycles. Many submissions arrived for the 2007 and 2009 awards consideration; very few for 2008 and 2010. But scant competition is no guarantee of winning. If nothing worthy arrives in a category, no award is presented.
Happily, The Haunted Restaurant is amusing, entertaining, and well made. This Canadian short film (7 minutes) is about a restaurant where many people have died under "accidental" circumstances. The place has a bad reputation. Nevertheless, a couple must eat a meal there in order to collect on a inheritance.
Directed by Trevor Carroll and written by Max Mosher, The Haunted Restaurant is a polished student effort from Vancouver, with a talented cast and entertaining story. It wins this year's Best Comedic Horror Short Film award.
* Shrove Tuesday
As with Death in Charge, Lee Andrew Matthews's Shrove Tuesday defies easy categorization. It has animated scenes, but not many. It has humor, but it's mostly dark and grim. It's not a traditional story with a beginning, middle, and end, yet it tells a story.
This 22 minute English film opens with a voiceover that explains the dramatic premise, accompanied by whimsical animation. Then a briefly comedic, but largely gory vignette. Then what appears to be the real story, borrowing Red Riding Hood from the Brothers Grimm, but not the wolf. This final segment is capped by a somewhat anachronistic depiction of missing child posters in what appears to be a medieval forest.
Shrove Tuesday dramatizes the bloody roots of Old English fairy tales, and their modern day (is it modern day?) manifestations. The film's bright saturated colors and soft-focus images are beautiful, grisly, and fantastical, supporting the theme of a dark, dreamy fairy tale. Its events are further supported by powerful and sumptuous music (that appropriately includes medieval bells), whose melodies parallel the film's dramatic twists and turns. Horrifically fantastical visual effects further support the film's story and themes.
Defying easy classification, Shrove Tuesday deservedly wins the Best Avant-Garde Horror Short Film Tabloid Witch. It also wins for Best Cinematography, and Best Visual Effects, and Best Music Soundtrack.
Before there was Hostel (2005), there was El tren de la bruja (2003, aka The Spook House), an 18 minute Spanish short with a surprisingly similar premise. If that's not widely known, it's because El tren de la bruja has not been widely seen outside the festival circuit. Nevertheless, viewers who have see both films have noted the similarities.
In Koldo Serra's film, a man participates in a "scientific experiment about fear" -- but soon suspects that the "spook house" he's locked inside is no safe "scientific experiment," but deadly entertainment for rich sadists.
Apart from its originality, El tren de la bruja is superior to Hostel also in that it doesn't rely on graphic torture. Rather, it relies primarily on sounds and suggestions to inspire fear.
It's been seven years since El tren de la bruja was released, the longest period between a film's release and its submission for a Tabloid Witch. That's okay. El tren de la bruja is little known and deserving of attention. It wins an Honorable Mention for 2010.
Also deserving recognition is actor Manolo Solo, whose character goes through cocky arrogance, feigned courage, doubt, fear, hysteria, and cynicism over the course of 18 minutes. Solo wins Best Actor for 2010.
As in The Blair Witch Project, El tren de la bruja's sound is an active participant in the story. The noises emanating from the dark, moving about, and changing pitch and timbre, insinuate all manner of threats. Heard but not seen, these alternating noises inspire fear by conjuring images in the audience's imagination. El tren de la bruja wins for Best Sound.
Information on El tren de la bruja may be obtained through Kimuak.com.
* Scream Machine
The Tabloid Witch always enjoys seeing quiet, creepy, metaphysical horror. Minimalist horror that emphasizes story and suggestion over gore. Scream Machine (15 minutes) isn't as minimalist as previous Tabloid Witch winners such as Oculus, Vadata, or He Dies at the End, but it's in the same ballpark.
While cleaning out a garage, three friends find a small box. That's it, just a box. Small, wooden, and plain. But there's a legend. If you open the box and look inside, you'll see your worst fear and die.
Two of the friends scoff. All three confess their worst fears. Then ... you know what's coming up.
One of them opens the box.
Despite its low budget, Scream Machine has some impressive special effects. Not the big, splashy, bloody Hollywood kind, but small and neat, like its story. Brian Beardsley's music soundtrack effectively parallels that story, creating the right mood for every dramatic shift.
Scream Machine is spooky, original, thought-provoking, and entertaining, without resorting to sex and excessive gore, winning an Honorable Mention for director Tim Aldridge and writer Julia Camara.
This guy does everything wrong. He drinks in a bar, argues with his lady friend -- now he's upset as well as drunk! -- then gets behind the wheel of a car. While driving along a curving country road, he talks and texts on his cell phone -- then plows into a girl on a bicycle. Her ghost returns to haunt him.
That sounds like the beginnings of a traditional supernatural horror tale. Do you suppose the girl haunts the man until he confesses? Or until he dies a grisly death to pay for his sins? Or that it's all in his mind?
The Sweet Hand of the White Rose is beyond all that. Its dramatic twists and turns culminate in an unexpected and poignant resolution.
Apart from some beautiful photography, The Sweet Hand of the White Rose demonstrates horror's ability to effectively influence and inform (in this case, about the dangers of distracted driving), earning an Honorable Mention for writer/director Davide Melini.
A little girl is possessed by demons. Her mother frets over her. Enter three priests to perform an exorcism. Deus Irae looks to be a traditional horror story. But then things get ... weird.
Like many of this year's winners, this Argentinean short (14 minutes) defies traditional horror dramatic elements, taking a risk on originality.
The exorcist looks to be a typical pious priest. But those two assistants ... one looks to be a grizzled thug, with his five o-clock shadow and dark glasses. The other priest is a woman. Not a nun, but a lady priest with a black roman collar, meaning she's supposed to be Catholic.
Things get weirder still. The exorcism turns violent, and it seems the priests are the villains. But then a turn of events reveals that there is legitimate cause for the priests' behavior. The girl is not what she seems. After some more dramatic turns, we are left confused.
Many horror short films are samples of a proposed feature version. Some hide it well, working as a standalone story. Unfortunately, Deus Irae ends on an incomplete note. The priests, having completed the exorcism, suit up to confront a far greater demonic force -- then the film ends. We never learn the identity, motivation, or mission of these strange priests. Are they a renegade or super-secret Catholic order that handles the dirtiest jobs and meanest demons?
Deus Irae looks like a cross between The Exorcist and The Dark Knight. A comic book action film with morally ambiguous, unconventional, superhero priests. It's energetic, intriguing, beautifully photographed, and unusual, winning writer/director Pedro Cristiani his second Tabloid Witch Honorable Mention, after 2009's El Hombre de la Bolsa.
Rabbid EFX wins a Best Make-Up award for Deus Irae's strikingly original demonic prosthetics. This is their third after 2007 (Death Knows Your Name) and 2009 (El Hombre de la Bolsa). Although based in Argentina, Rabbid EFX's creatures and gore effects are consistently original and horrific, noticeably superior to many Hollywood big studio efforts.
In this feature length film (93 minutes), five young people enter a Florida swamp land to conduct archeological research on an extinct Native American tribe. The land was reputedly a place where this tribe executed their murderers, rapists, and other evildoers. Legend has it that all this evil spilt blood has spiritually poisoned the land.
To walk safely on this tainted soil, your heart must be pure. Woe to passersby who carry dark secrets.
The young explorers scoff at the legend.
They discover some old Indian sticks used in magic. One of them makes the mistake of testing these sticks -- unleashing the evil in the land.
Endangering those not of pure heart.
Jose Zambrano Cassella's The Sacred is an old-fashioned horror morality tale. There's some nice photography, evocative mood music, and a lush jungle backdrop. It wins for Best Horror Feature Film.
John Kyle offers a standout performance as a grizzled scout who hires out his boat to take the young folk up the river. His imposing height and weather-worn face (looking part Indian) is physically ideal for the role, as is his gruff voice and laconic delivery. He earns a Best Supporting Actor Tabloid Witch.
Lauren Brown is noteworthy in her role as a vain young nurse with a skeleton in her closet. Initially a self-centered bimbo, she turns terrified and agonizingly remorseful when confronted with her past sins -- and immanent death. Brown wins Best Supporting Actress.
Steve Hudgins is persistent. Over the years he's submitted four previous films to the Tabloid Witch and never won anything. It's not that his films are bad. Indeed, his films are admirably ambitious, and more entertaining than many slicker films. But Hudgins's rough production values could be improved. Even so, the Investigator liked Hudgins's work enough to profile his Big Biting Pig Productions earlier this year.
Hudgins has been improving, learning his craft. This year, the Tabloid Witch is pleased to offer Hudgins some well-earned recognition for his latest effort, Hell Is Full (97 minutes).
Many screenwriters lament that while they can handle dialog and humor, they struggle with plot structure. Structure is Hudgins's strength. In both Maniac on the Loose and Goatsucker, Hudgins applies a non-linear story structure that is tight, logical, ambitious, and experimental.
He further stretches his abilities in Hell Is Full. The film opens with a zombie assault -- then moves backward in time to show how that zombie came to be. What he was doing just before he was attacked and became undead. The story then moves backward yet again, to show how his attacker became a zombie.
Nor is this reverse structure strictly linear. With so many characters, the story backtracks along several different dramatic threads, crisscrossing with overlapping incidents, until coming back full circle to the beginning. By moving backward along multiple threads, we have come forward to the beginning.
Because some story threads overlap, occurring simultaneously, it sometimes appears that we're moving backward, when actually we're viewing an incident that's occurring parallel to another incident, as we eventually learn.
Never mind. It all ties together in the end.
In most films, zombies are introduced as brain dead creatures (as opposed to the characters we first meet as humans, who later become zombies). But Hudgins's clever plot structure introduces us to zombies as zombies, then reveals the person behind the now rotting flesh. Thus does Hudgins strips away our prejudices about the undead. "You think she's just a monster? But see what a decent, normal gal she once was!"
Beneath the rotting flesh, we discover people who once struggled with personal problems and moral dilemmas, just like everyone else.
A trained stage actor, Hudgins appears in his own films, and has never turned in a less than professional performance. He'd make a great script doctor, fixing other screenwriters' structural problems, if only some Hollywood agent would sign him up.
Rafael DeLeon Jr. was determined to win a Tabloid Witch. He submitted three short films this year. His most recent is his best. Waffle is a simple tale (running at only 7 minutes) about childhood bullying and revenge, with shades of American Gothic.
Everyone at school picks on Wendy. Her mom says it's because they're jealous over how smart Wendy is. Mom is pleased when Wendy finds a friend to stick up for her and partner on her latest science project.
But the friend turns out be be not very nice. Unfortunately for her, there are some nasty things about Wendy the friend has yet to learn.
No, Waffle is no Carrie ripoff. It's not that Wendy is telekinetic. The surprise is simple and gruesome, even visceral. The final images leave a strong emotional impact. Writer/director Rafael De Leon Jr. wins an Honorable Mention.
Best Horror Feature Film .......................... Jose Zambrano Cassella & Sharon Reed (The Sacred)
Best Feature Film Screenplay .................... Steve Hudgins (Hell Is Full)
Best Dramatic Horror Short Film ................. Devi Snively (Death in Charge)
Best Comedic Horror Short Film ................. Trevor Carroll & Max Mosher (The Haunted Restaurant)
Best Avant-Garde Horror Short Film ........... Lee Andrew Matthews (Shrove Tuesday)
Best Actress .............................................. Marina Benedict (Death in Charge)
* Best Actor .................................................. Manolo Solo (El tren de la bruja)
* Best Supporting Actress
............................. Lauren Brown (The Sacred)
* Best Supporting Actor
................................ John Kyle (The Sacred)
* Best Cinematography
................................. Peter Frederick Davies (Shrove Tuesday)
* Best Sound ................................................. Nacho Royo (El tren de la bruja)
* Best Visual Effects
..................................... Dutch Dallas (Shrove Tuesday)
* Best Make-Up Effects
................................. Rabbid EFX (Deus Irae)
* Best Music Soundtrack
............................... Peter Rutland (Shrove Tuesday)
Tim Aldridge & Julia Camara (Scream Machine)
Koldo Serra & Nacho Vigalondo (El tren de la bruja)
* Pedro Cristiani (Deus Irae)
* Davide Melini (The Sweet Hand of the White Rose)
* Rafael De Leon Jr. (Waffle)
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