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Tabloid Witch Awards

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by Thomas M. Sipos, managing editor [October 4, 2013]





[]  Foreign films and horror/sci-fi were heavily represented among 2013's Tabloid Witch Award winners. Of 85 horror films considered this year (up from last year's 71 entries), winning films came from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, England, Israel, Spain, and the United States. Of those 85 films, 11 won at least one award -- 13% of entries.

The Tabloid Witch Awards was founded by the Hollywood Investigator in 2004 as a No Entry Fee contest to promote new horror films and undiscovered talent. With that goal, it has continued to evolve. This year we introduce two new award categories: Best Art Direction and Best Editing.

Here now are 2013's Tabloid Witch Award winning films:



* Best Horror Feature: Nervo Craniano Zero


Nervo Craniano Zero features an old-school "monster" that we haven't seen in a while -- the mad scientist. Much about this Brazilian horror film is old-fashioned, from its retro costumes and art direction, to a gonzo attitude that evokes such outre 1960s/70s films as Bloodsucking Freaks and Andy Warhol's Flesh for Frankenstein. There's a mad scientist (who was predictably laughed at by the medical establishment), gory brain surgery, a living disembodied head, and a sadistically sexy villainous. What's not to like?

Nervo Craniano Zero began life as a stage play and it shows. There are few sets and much dialog. But the sets are colorful and stylistically lit, and director Paulo Biscaia Filho overcomes a potential stagy feeling with fluid camera moves and (when appropriate) quick and choppy edits. And though it's a talky film, the talk is witty and literate, delivered by a talented cast.



Despite its theatrical roots, Nervo Craniano Zero is dynamic and well-paced, with high production values. A twisted tale of people who would do anything for fame, fortune, and eternal life.

In the Tabloid Witch's 10-year run, Nervo Craniano Zero is the first horror/sci-fi film to win for Best Horror Feature Film. It's also the first Brazilian film to win the top award, and only the second film from South America to do so. The first was Death Knows Your Name, an Argentinean film which won in 2007.

Nervo Craniano Zero has a website.





* Best Dramatic Horror Short: 8


While Nervo Craniano Zero is one of 2013's most theatrical horror film entries, Raúl Cerezo's 8 (15 minutes) is one of the most cinematic. 8 has many characters, yet no dialog. 8 is a silent film, apart from the music. It's a tale told entirely with images, much of it brief or subtle.

A large extended family meets for a boy's eighth birthday party. A cake is prepared. Presents are stacked. Family members gather, smiling on the boy. Nothing specifically appears wrong, yet we sense something evil afoot.

Cerezo demonstrates a mastery of cinematic tools to create atmosphere and imply a deeper subtext beneath the normalcy. There's the erie music, the dim lighting, the threatening staging of the actors, their ominous glances and sinister smiles, the use of wide-angle lens, the creepy house. It's all very subtle. A stranger coming upon these people can't really say why the house or their gathering looks creepy. Yet it all adds up to a feeling of something not right. Much like the gathering of neighbors in Rosemary's Baby or The Sentinel.




One must pay attention. Is it voodoo, or a rite of initiation, or what? I didn't connect all the dots upon first viewing. Even upon second viewing, one's not sure of every detail. Like classic book authors of the supernatural, Cerezo shows just enough and no more, leaving the rest to our imagination. 8 has a website.




* Best Comedic Horror Short: Torturous


Torture porn films tend to be sordid, mean-spirited -- and unoriginal even by horror standards. It's a subgenre that attracts all-too-many unimaginative filmmakers. Which is one of the nice things about Torturous. This seven minute film satirizes torture porn -- and does so without too much gore. What little there is -- an exaggerated blood spurt -- is so silly and obviously faked, it's likely to elicit laughs along with the grimaces.

The story is simple. A man wakes up in a nondescript room, tied to a chair, the walls covered with blood-stained plastic sheets. He has no idea how he got there. Another man is about to torture him, for no apparent reason. Whereupon the torturer suffers a mid-life crisis, questioning his career path.




This is the second year in a row that the Best Comedic Horror Short Film award went to a Canadian entry. Last year's winner, I Spyders, was another workplace comedy. Most people hate their jobs -- but it seems that Canadians really hate their jobs.





* Best Avant-Garde Horror Short: I Am Ana


As with 8, Gracie Hagen and Patrick Loy's I Am Ana (9 minutes) has no dialog. But neither is there music. Only strange and unsettling noises. Such as that weird sound when people "speak." Even their "screams" sound inhuman.

Like many avant-garde films, there is no clear story. Yet we can draw interpretations from what's on screen. Ana (Ashley Simone) is a substance abuser, leading a sad and squalid existence. She sees visions of a healthier, happier life. A life she once had, or a life she might have had? Is she seeing herself, or a friend who took a better path? Different actresses play the two women, so interpret as you will.

The film's set decor is normal, yet disturbing. The sort of dark, ugly color combinations and retro furniture that fill David Lynch's films. And the same creepily mundane oddities -- such as a pristine white kitchen with a shelf that contains only bottled water. Lots of bottled water. Actress Bethany Kinsler's giddiness over this banality evokes the grandparents' reaction to LAX in Mulholland Drive.




I Am Ana's lighting, set decor, sound, and staging create an oppressive mood, mirroring Ana's own feelings and dragging down audiences into her depression. An unsettling peek into the psyches of alcoholics, drug users, and suicides. Which, I suppose, is the whole point.






* Honorable Mention


The Tabloid Witch is primarily a contest rather than a film festival. Rather than picking many "official selections" for screening, from which a few winners are chosen, the Tabloid Witch begins by selecting a few winners, some of which may later be screened as part of the prize.

This year, partially because of the new award categories, far fewer Honorable Mentions were chosen -- two features, two shorts -- so it will remain a rare and special recognition.


* Tympanum


Honorable Mentions are sometimes given to extraordinary films that are not quite horror, yet not not horror. Last year one went to Motion Sickness, a Lynchian tale of Jewish mysticism. This year it's Jason Thomas Scott's Tympanum, a tale of a family man who discovers a wormhole in his closet. Essentially, his closet is a portal into another dimension, one which he feels compelled to explore.

Tympanum is a slow-paced film, emphasizing characters over action, emotional conflicts over gore. Old-fashioned science fiction was famous for its "sense of wonder." Tympanum delivers that, plus a dose of creepiness. Some of the best horror films are not about sordid serial killers, but about that creepy sense of wonder one encounters when entering unknown and threatening territory, be it on another planet or in an encounter with the supernatural.



Tympanum is also a poignant morality tale, something that horror does quite well. Horror/sci-fi films have long been in short supply. Recent years were dominated by serial killers and torturers, ghosts and zombies. It's nice to see two strong horror/sci-fi feature films this year.





* The Shunned House


Seattle filmmaker Eric Morgret had a head start on creating something worthwhile, basing his short film (12 minutes) on an H.P. Lovecraft tale. But he didn't rest on Lovecraft's laurels. Morgret's The Shunned House uses color creatively and purposefully, contrasting the present (shot in desaturated blue, green, and gray hues) with flashbacks from the past (emphasizing rust and sepia tones). The photography, sound, art direction, and special effects are all professional. K.L. Young's tight script effectively distills Lovecraft's wordy tale into cinematic form.




Morgret and Young are no strangers to Lovecraft, having collaborated on the 2005 Lovecraft-based feature film, Strange Aeons. Their Shunned House is an entertaining addition to Lovecraft's growing pantheon of film adaptations.





* Cannon Fodder


Horror films are not just about scares, but about themes and ideas. Cannon Fodder, the first zombie feature film from Israel, says something about Mideast politics. What that something is, is left up to audiences. "The story is not about people fighting zombies," says director Eitan Gafny. "It's about people from different sides of the conflict having to work together and put aside their political differences, to insure a better tomorrow. Other than that, I'll leave interpretation to the viewers."




Despite the fresh context, Cannon Fodder's story bears some similarity to Hell of the Living Dead. Soldiers are lied to by their superiors, are sent into a Third World hot spot, and discover a budding zombie apocalypse. Standard zombie fare. But entertaining and well made, with strong production values and fine acting by all cast members. Especially impressive considering that it's a student film.





* Malevolent


Robert Emfield's Malevolent (6 minutes) is a simple film. It hasn't the big budget, professional actors, or splashy (but ultimately pointless) special effects of some of this year's short film entries. It doesn't even have dialog. (Yes, just like 8 and I Am Ana.) Indeed, Malevolent's production tools are so bare bones, it was shot entirely on an iPhone.

Yet with that simple tool, Emfield demonstrates a photographer's eye for haunting, evocative visuals. A collection of almost still images, about a weary, old woman, living alone on a dilapidated farm. She writes a letter of warning. "Something evil" inhabits her home. Judging by the dreary appearance of her farm, it appears to permeate the whole area. But what is it?



Malevolent is a mood piece, a collection of somber images reinforced by eerie music. A depressing portrait of American gothic. Of Lovecraftian decay. A simple story with a not-entirely original ending, yet one that stays with us because of the oppressive atmosphere building up to that final jolt





* Additional Winners



Many actresses this year portrayed long-suffering (yet often strong), sympathetic victims -- Nicol Zanzarella in Tympanum, Alyssa Mann in The Killing of Jacob Marr, Yafit Shalev in Cannon Fodder, Rachel Marie Lewis in House of Good and Evil, and Briana Rayner in a short film, Bruised -- to name only a few. All of them gave excellent performances (Lewis especially so), but in essentially the same role.

Guenia Lemos was refreshingly different. In Nervo Cranium Zero her Bruna Bloch is an archetypical horror villainess -- amoral, calculating, cruel, using sex and murder and bizarre medical experiments to stay atop the bestseller lists. She plays Bloch with glee, gusto, and sordid sensuality, winning Guenia Lemos the Best Actress Award.



Characters in horror often confront the fantastique, and all too often with a blasé attitude. A few blinks to show their surprise, followed by a sudden (and poorly motivated) "Hey, let's go check it out!"

Tympanum's Maron spends much time intellectually digesting the wormhole in his closet. After extensive deliberation, his decision to enter it is well motivated.

Much credit goes to Jason Thomas Scott's thoughtful script. But credit is also due to David Tenenbaum's considered performance, barely suppressing Maron's excitement while he tries to soothe his wife's fears by calmly pleading his case.

David Tenenbaum wins for Best Actor.


In House of Good and Evil, a quiet intensity burns beneath Mrs. Anderson's placid exterior, fueled by a dark and painful secret -- and Marietta Marich's soft-spoken, measured performance subtly reflects these still waters running deep within this elderly, abused woman.

Marietta Marich wins the Best Supporting Actress Award.




Sometimes you can't pick only one, especially when they occupy the same amount of screen time, in the same film. That's why 2011's Best Actress award was shared by Absentia's two leading ladies.

It's also why 2013's Best Supporting Actor award is shared by two gentlemen from The Legend of the 5ive.

As a pretentious pair of TV ghosthunters, Lee J. Higgs and Greg Tanner are lots of fun to watch. Higgs is a buffoonish psychic. Tanner is a smarmy TV host, his portentous raised eyebrow implying spooky things to come. Even more amusing than watching these guys' self-importance is seeing their egos pop when the real hauntings begin.

Lee J Higgs and Greg Tanner win for Best Supporting Actor.



A film without dialog relies all the more on images and music, and 8 excels on both fronts. Color contrasts, smoke effects, a haze filter, a slightly wide-angle lens, all of it building subtly toward a sense of mounting dread. What might be a normal family gathering is visually distorted into something sinister.

Of all horror subgenres, supernatural horror relies most on atmosphere, and Ignacio Aguilar's photography delivers, earning him the award for Best Cinematography.



As in David Lynch's work, I Am Ana makes admirable use of ambient noise to unnerve viewers. But still more impressive are Tympanum's sound effects and mixes.

Apart from the strange alien noises on "the other side," consider the final beach scene, where diverse tracks -- human voices, wave effects, music, silence -- rise or fall in volume to reflect and reinforce the scene's dramatic and emotional content. In many films sound is an afterthought, but in Tympanum it's an active participant.

The Best Sound award goes to Tim Sloan.





Filmed stage plays can feel heavy and plodding, the characters stuck in a few rooms, mostly talking.

Nervo Craniano Zero overcomes these hurdles with an incessantly fluid camera and dynamic editing, working in unison to keep the visuals moving as quickly as the characters' witty banter.

Paulo Biscaia Filho wins for Best Editing.






Since Nervo Craniano Zero is based on a theatrical play, we spend a lot of time looking at the same few sets. Fortunately, the stage decor is a visual feast -- bright, colorful, gonzo, retro, and bigger-than life.

The archaic set pieces also aesthetically support the film's retro tale of mad science's search for the secret of eternal life. The decor is beautiful and appropriate -- form and function.

Paulo Vinícius wins for Best Art Direction.




Many things can go wrong when science tampers with nature, and in horror/sci-fi films they always do. Brain surgery, heart surgery, scalpel fights, decapitations, drugged hallucinations, burnings -- it's all in there in Nervo Craniano Zero, and it's a bloody mess.

It's also important to honor the artists behind the mess, without whose valuable contributions science would be less repulsive, but also less fun.

Magnus Pereira Lobo and Marcelino de Miranda win for Best Make-Up Effects.




This portal into a watery dimension is nice, but what really impresses are the creatures on the other side. They look like big purple spiders to us, but Tympanum director Jason Thomas Scott says that everyone has their own interpretation. So as not to (further) spoil any surprises, we won't put up their picture.

Just know they are impressive -- especially on a low budget.

Cullen Wright of Cypress House Productions wins for Best Visual Effects.



The music in Nervo Craniano Zero, Tympanum, and 8 convey a gonzo attitude, emotional poignancy, and sinister anticipation, respectively. Their scores are not only lively or pleasing, but aesthetically appropriate for their tales and themes.

But Luciano Onetti's score in Sonno Prodondo not only supports the story -- it evokes an entire era and subgenre of filmmaking. His music convinces us that we are watching a 1970s Italian giallo, shot about the same period as Dario Argento's Sonno Rosso or Mario Bava's 5 Dolls for an August Moon.

Without Onetti's score, Sonno Profondo would lose much of its impact. In no other entry this year was music so much an active -- and effective -- participant in the film.

Luciano Onetti wins for Best Music Soundtrack.





* The Final Tally


Tabloid Witch Award Winners


* Best Horror Feature Film ......................... Paulo Biscaia Filho (Nervo Craniano Zero)

* Best Dramatic Horror Short Film .............. Raúl Cerezo (8, aka Eight, aka Ocho)

* Best Comedic Horror Short Film .............. Angus Swantee & Craig Gunn (Torturous)

* Best Avant-Garde Horror Short Film ........ Gracie Hagen & Patrick Loy (I Am Ana)

* Best Actress ............................................. Guenia Lemos (Nervo Craniano Zero)

* Best Actor ................................................. David Tenenbaum (Tympanum)

* Best Supporting Actress ........................... Marietta Marich (House of Good and Evil)

* Best Supporting Actor ............................... Lee J. Higgs & Greg Tanner (The Legend of the 5ive)

* Best Cinematography ................................ Ignacio Aguilar (8, aka Eight, aka Ocho)

* Best Sound ................................................ Tim Sloan (Tympanum)

* Best Editing ............................................... Paulo Biscaia Filho (Nervo Craniano Zero)

* Best Art Direction ....................................... Paulo Vinícius (Nervo Craniano Zero)

* Best Visual Effects ..................................... Cullen Wright (Tympanum)

* Best Make-Up Effects ................................ Magnus Pereira Lobo & Marcelino de Miranda (Nervo Craniano Zero)

* Best Music Soundtrack .............................. Luciano Onetti (Sonno Profundo)


Tabloid Witch Honorable Mentions


* Jason Thomas Scott & Shannon Corder (Tympanum)

* Eric Morgret & K.L. Young (The Shunned House)

* Eitan Gafny (Cannon Fodder)

* Robert Emfield (Malevolent)


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