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2017 TABLOID WITCH AWARD WINNERS ANNOUNCED

by Thomas M. Sipos, managing editor [October 1, 2017]

 

 

 

 

 

[HollywoodInvestigator.com]  For the 14th year in a row, the Hollywood Investigator is happy to announce the winners of its Tabloid Witch Awards horror film contest. We received 232 entries this award season, the most competitive season yet. There is no shame in losing, as many fine films lost.

Every year has its trends. Zombies and found footage films were prevalent in previous years. This year, not so much. Supernatural films were very big this year. Plenty of ghosts. But also many devils, demons, and witches. A surprisingly large number of witches.

Dario Argento was a big influence this year. Never before have we seen so many horror films brightly lit with primary colors. Yes, nondiegetic colored lights usually enhance a film. But with so many filmmakers using them, colored lighting didn't help any film stand apart from the crowd.

Another trend is the increasing use of English speaking actors in foreign films. We received films with English soundtracks from Italy, Mexico, Norway, and Spain. The actors might speak with an accent, but still, they're speaking English. Presumably, like the Swedish pop group ABBA, foreign films are being shot in English to reach a wider audience.

In selecting winners, films were assessed for originality, technical mastery, acting, thematic depth, aesthetics (how well the technical aspects supported the film's story, characters, and themes), and entertainment value. Naturally, no film excelled in all categories. That was expected. Only God is perfect.

Here now are 2017's Tabloid Witch Award winning films:


* Best Horror Feature: Escape the Dark

 

Escape the Dark isn't the slickest or most expensive of 2017's horror features. It's a crowd-funded, micro-budget effort. Yet it delivers an engrossing story, full of unexpected twists and eerie suspense. It might even be that its low budget -- most of the film is set in the same apartment -- compelled the filmmakers to focus on story, characters, and theme.

The film opens on a creepy note. Jackie (Sarah Nicklin) reads a "true" ghost story to her roommate, Rachel (Karli Kaiser). The lighting is dim, the setting quiet -- too quiet -- and the actresses perform convincingly. Because their characters seem real, their situation feels real to us. Whereupon the supernatural intrudes upon their lives.

 

 

There's a second set of roommates, Jon and August (Michael Slefinger and Erik Moody). Much as in an X-Files episode, these four roommates' lives collide due to a phenomenon combining elements of the supernatural and science fiction. The roommates are prey to an extra-dimensional monster. A monster that can bend space and time. A monster that feeds on human emotions, and is especially drawn by depression. Two of the roommates suffer from it.

 

 

 

Thus we have another of Escape the Dark's merits. It has a theme. Depression. Of course, many films use human emotions, usually love, as a cheap, shallow sort of "theme." Aliens land but are destroyed because they don't understand love, etc. But Escape the Dark's handling of depression isn't shallow. Its characters' depressions are introduced slowly into the film, segueing seamlessly into the plot. August's pithy monologue on what it feels like to be depressed is a literary mini-marvel. Truthful, emotionally gripping, neither over-written nor over-acted.

It should be truthful -- one of the filmmakers (Escape the Dark was co-written and co-directed by Matthew Chilelli and Ben DeLoose) claims to have suffered from depression. August's monologue on depression is one of the film's most unsettling moments, and certainly its most memorable.

Although shot on a micro-budget, Escape the Dark enjoys professional production values and a talented cast. Its limited special effects are adequate for its conceit. More importantly, its story is original, frightening, memorable, and thematically compelling. The title has a dual meaning. The characters strive both to escape the eternal night of the monster's trap, and to escape the darkness of their own state of mind.

 

 

 

 

* Best Dramatic Horror Short: Creswick

 

Creswick has a simple story. Sam (Dana Miltins) visits her father, Colin (Chris Orchard), out in the country. He's planning to sell his isolated house. Sam's childhood memories are rekindled as she packs her old toys. But how accurately does she remember her childhood in the old house? Colin reminds her that she never liked it here, though she denies it.

Why did the young Sam dislike it here? Why does Colin's dog dislike it now? What are those shapes and shadows that Sam thinks she sees in the woods and in her room? Tension builds through vague suggestions of the unnatural, until Sam enters her father's carpenter shop late at night. There she discovers something horrifying in its implications, even if the details remain unclear. Enough to say that it's a horror of otherworldly Lovecraftian dimensions.

 

 

 

Production values are excellent and aesthetically support the story and characters. Acting is strong and appropriately low key, supporting the characters' somber situation, the winding down of the elderly Colin's affairs. Cinematography is beautiful yet eerie, evoking the dark woods of Twin Peaks. The sound design is especially admirable, doing much to suggest something amiss in seemingly normal events.

It's hard to say if there's a theme, though one critic suggests that Creswick is about the fear of aging and death. I'm not sure about that, though I can see it.

The film is silent about the meaning of its title. I did some research after the film won. (Because films are judged solely by what's on screen, any information provided by filmmakers about themselves or their films is ignored until judging is concluded.) Creswick is a town in Australia. (This is an Aussie film.) Further research indicates that filmmaker Natalie James hopes to turn Creswick into a feature, so perhaps we'll learn the meaning then.

Many short films are obviously promos for an intended feature. They end with a cliffhanger and the nagging feeling that the real story has just begun. To James's credit, Creswick is not an obvious promo. It satisfies on its own merits, ending with a sense of closure even if a mystery remains.

Of the many supernatural horror shorts received this year, Creswick was the best. Full of shadows and sounds and implications, Creswick is a masterpiece of minimalist Lovecraftian horror.

 

 

 

 

* Best Comedic Horror Short: Puppy

 

Brian (C. Michael Whaley) can't seem to find a girlfriend. He's failed at speed dating, internet dating, everything. Then he's told that women love puppies. So he gets one to attract female attention. It works! Now every woman wants to date Brian. Alas, his cute, cuddly furball so quickly slaughters every woman that Brian brings home, he can only exclaim, "I didn't even get laid yet!"

 

 

Puppy follows in the tradition of absurdist horror films about lethal cute animals (e.g., Black Sheep, Night of the Lupus) or sentient hardware. Just this year we received films featuring a killer vacuum cleaner, weed whacker, bathtub, refrigerator, teddy bear, stuffed lion, doll, and another puppy. Tough competition. But the puppy in Puppy was the funniest, his bloody antics evoking the savage bunny rabbit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

While its conceit is unoriginal, Puppy is such an entertaining delight that one wants to watch it again and again. Like a classic Saturday Night Live skit, Puppy holds up to repeated viewing. Its colorful production design and bright lighting aesthetically support the comedy. Frenetic editing and lively music, at appropriate moments, keep the pace brisk and the jokes coming. Running at 16 minutes, Puppy suffers no boredom.

Directed by Matt Slechter from Whaley's script, Puppy also greatly benefits from actress Rachel Swindler, who play's Brian's platonic gal pal. She's the one who came up with the bright idea of getting a puppy in the first place, and she there's for Brian whenever he has to bury yet another deceased date.

 

 

 

 

* Best Animated Horror Short: Daily Commute

 

Perhaps you're one of the millions who've suffered the dehumanizing effects of mass transit. The over-crowded buses and subways. Finding yourself squeezed amid creepy strangers covered in mystery stains, emitting noxious odors, secreting strange bodily fluids, suffering from loathsome diseases or scary mental disorders.

 

 

In under a minute, Scott Palazzo's Daily Commute captures the essence of mass transit as a horror show. Expressing the idea without words, his film is a form of visual poetry. The dreary hues -- dull reds and browns, with touches of sickly greens and yellows -- are aesthetically appropriate to his theme. They also suggest Hell itself. The bus travels through a fire that does not consume. The number of the bus is 666. This might literally be a daily commute in Hell.

It's a horror that New Yorkers understand. Palazzo hails from Spain, so it seems the phenomenon knows no borders.

 

 

 

 

* Best Avant-Garde Horror Short: Inferno

 

Dustin M. Rosemark's Inferno (co-scripted with John Shook) is a modern interpretation of Dante's tale, following the latter's storyline but with updated imagery. We see events through the eyes of a deceased person who is escorted through Hell. There is no dialog. No verbal communication with the denizens of the underworld. Only hand gestures and a somber, ponderous music soundtrack.

 

 

Although we are in Hell, Inferno is no haunted house ride. Its images are discomforting and thought-provoking, rather than scary or shocking. Our protagonist is never threatened or attacked. He is but a witness to the fates of the damned. Many are still compulsively indulging in the sins that got them admitted in the first place. Seeing the lustful or greedy grasp after perverse parodies of their desires is not a pretty sight.

 

 

Inferno's surrealism is assisted by its black & white photography, which is gritty and scratchy, at times underexposed, at times overexposed. The jerky, almost stop-motion like movements of its characters also helps.

Avant-garde horror was a surprisingly competitive category this year, with a greater than usual number of entries. Some were quite good, but even so, Inferno was the clear winner. An artfully made film with lingering surreal images and profound philosophic depth. Original despite being an adaptation of a centuries old classic poem.

Inferno was submitted as a feature, but as it runs at 55 minutes, it qualifies as a short. At the Tabloid Witch, 60 minutes is the minimum for a feature. That was settled in 2005 when the 60 minutes Mole won for Best Horror Feature.

 

 

 

 

* Best Horror Music Video: Nameless Lands

 

Directed by Olivier Treiner and performed by Sheriff, the Nameless Lands music video is a lyrical, moody variant on the old tale of trying to reanimate a dead lover. Like the protagonist in several of Edgar Allan Poe's works, the man in Nameless Lands pines after a woman who died at a young age. He appears to be trying to rebuild her with soil. At one point, she seems alive inside the soil, but we can't be sure if it's real or his imagination.

 

 

The images lend themselves to multiple interpretations. The man is white, the woman looks Native American, which might be why he's trying to reconstruct her using soil. Native Americans are said to be close to their land. Frankenstein would have used a cadaver. The Bible is also invoked. The man eventually accepts her death and scatters her ashes to the wind. Dust you are and to dust you shall return.

The cinematography and production design are professional and aesthetically appropriate. The dark muted colors reinforce the story's somber mood, until the final, bright sunlit scene when the man has finally accepted the woman's death.

 

 

 

 

 

* Honorable Mention

 

Because of the extremely competitive nature of the Tabloid Witch -- so many films to consider! -- winning an Honorable Mention is indeed cause for pride.

The Honorable Mention prizes -- as with the "Best ... Film" prizes, are awarded to a film's writer and director.

 

 

 

 

 * Demonoid 1971

 

As with all winners, I wrote a detailed review explaining why Demonoid 1971 won. However, the filmmaker pleaded that I remove it. The reason is that Demonoid 1971 is a film with a secret. A secret so pervasive, embedded in the film itself, that it's hard to accurately discuss the film without revealing it. So in deference to the filmmaker, I won't discuss it. You'll just have to view the trailer and wonder about this film. What is its secret?

 

 

Perhaps someday you'll see the entire film at a festival and figure it out then. For now, Demonoid 1971 remains the most mysterious film ever to win a Tabloid Witch.

 

 

 

 

* Halfway House

 

One of the most original of this year's entries, Halfway House offers a succession of surprises that are wholly unexpected, yet not such that we scoff and lose interest. Rather, they intrigue us, drawing us into the protagonist's predicament. The surprises are increasingly unsettling, frightening, bizarre, and ultimately surreal.

Joseph awakes to find that, while he was sleeping, someone moved his washing machine from the basement to the back porch, and tossed his clothes into the pool. Why? Nothing was stolen. That's what makes it especially unsettling. The lack of logical motive. Bad enough if a burglar breaks into your home. But what does this home invader want?

 

 

Stazi, Joe's live-in girlfriend, is unperturbed. She suggests that Joe moved the washer while he was sleep walking. Or maybe the neighborhood kids were pulling a prank?

Stazi is more perturbed the next day when she awakes to discover the intruder returned last night and -- SPOILER ALERT -- stacked chairs atop tables, even nailing some to the walls. The conceit is brilliant in its originality, weirdness (thus heightening our unease), and simplicity (requiring almost no budget, demonstrating that you don't need big bucks to make effective horror). And it's legitimately frightening. Who breaks into a home, not to steal, but to bizarrely rearrange the furniture? What motive?

The police investigation adds another layer of unexpected weirdness. The two detectives provide a small dose of absurdist comedy that carefully treads the line of funny and creepy. Funny, but not so funny as to dissipate the horror. Halfway House is no Puppy.

Anyway, the police detectives see nothing amiss, as nothing was stolen. They suspect Joe and Stazi of ... something. And they leave in a huff.

On the third night, Joe and Stazi stay awake, awaiting the intruder. And once again, he -- it? -- is not what you'd expect. The make-up is simple, yet horrific. And then, when you finally think it's over, Joe exits his house and is confronted yet again by the weird and unexpected. (No, not a horde of more intruders. I said it was unexpected.)

Halfway House lingers in the mind, challenging us for interpretations. Set in a pristine Speilbergian suburb, is the film a commentary on suburbia? But if so, what is its comment? Even the credit roll is absurd. The film is in black & white -- why? -- yet credits a Digital Colorist.

Upon second viewing, I determined this film is a nightmare. Halfway House is weird because it is surreal. To its credit, it is not so surreal that it's obviously a nightmare. It frightens because it feels like straight horror. As if the events are real. I guess you can watch it several times and never know that it's a nightmare. (It is a nightmare, isn't it?)

Halfway House wasn't the slickest entry. Other films had superior production values and special effects. But writer/director Leslie Simpson (who also plays Joe) has created a strikingly original tale with scares and surprises. (Unsurprisingly, Halfway House hails from Down Under -- Aussie horror always has tended toward the offbeat.)

 

 

 

 

* Devil Town

 

Yes, Devil Town borrows from Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The film acknowledges that. Patrick says, "Oh, how very Invasion of the Body Snatchers." But amid this season's flood of ghosts and witches and demons, creepy conspiratorial horror stands out. Especially one so across-the-board exquisite as Devil Town.

 

 

Not that Devil Town features pods from outer space. We never learn who they are, except that they are replacing us. Yes, the film's title suggests they might be demons, but they could as easily be evil ... whatever. We never see them except in human form. That they look horrific is intimated but never stated. Devil Town has no special effects. The film relies solely on story, character, and acting.

The latter is provided by Matt Hebden and Johnny Vivash, who play Patrick and Driscoll. Patrick is an obnoxious yuppie. Driscoll is a homeless man with a doomsday sandwich board. Yuppie meets bum. It's a old conceit. To the actors' credit, they reinvigorate these archetypes, their verbal sparring exuding antagonistic chemistry after Driscoll swipes Patrick's cell phone. He refuses to return it until Patrick listens to his conspiracy theory.

The cast is assisted by writer/director Nick Barrett's dialog, which is terse and tense. As is typical in conspiracy horror, the setting is normal, even pedestrian (a coffee house) and set in broad daylight. But as Driscoll proceeds with his revelation, we start to notice things.

Apart from first rate writing and acting, the production values -- cinematography, sound, production design -- are top notch. Devil Town is a slick little film, with a creepy buildup to heart-stopping terror.

 

 

 

 

* I Never Can

 

Many short ghost films were submitted this year. And many had strong production values. But most were lacking in depth, satisfied with a shock ending. The sudden boo! Effective, but not designed to linger in the mind.

I Never Can lingers. It has depth. It's an impressionistic film, told in scattered pieces. The profile of a young man haunted by his dead girlfriend, and by his own guilt. Ghost and guilt are intertwined. One scene suggests the ghost tricked him into admitting her haunting presence into his life, but it's also possible that she's all in his head. That guilt over her death compels the man to torment himself with her imagined hauntings.

 

 

Jon Cates and Mig Windows perform admirably as the tormented man and ghostly girlfriend, lending emotional depth to the film's weighty themes. Windows also wrote and co-directed. (Actors writing their own material is trending -- Puppy was scripted by its male lead.) Rory Owens's somber lighting helps set the dark tone, with a splash of primary colored lights (popular among so many entries this year) to suggest the supernatural. The melancholy background music (if it can be called music) is a further assist. That it was taken from Freesounds.org proves yet again that high art can be achieved on a low budget.

 

 

 

 

* Hell of a Night

 

There's not much depth to Hell of a Night. Two sisters say they love each other and miss their dead dad, but it's a throwaway scene, not integral to the plot. Hell of a Night is another of the many ghost films entered this year. Another film full of bright, primary colored lights, a la Dario Argento. The film is neither original nor deep. What it does, very well, is entertain.

 

 

We open with two girls conducting a sťance. A ghost appears and tragedy ensues. Before the end we encounter multiple ghosts, bloodshed, brutality and betrayal, slick visual effects, faint noises in the night, loud thunderstorms and torrential rain, grindhouse gore, creepy atmosphere, homages to Texas Chainsaw Massacre (ghosts and meathooks), and a rainbow's supply of bright colored lights -- enough for ten Suspiria remakes.

 

 

 

 

 

Hell of a Night is your classic horror rollercoaster. Characters are broadly sketched, lacking nuance and complexity. (Good girl, bad girl, good ghost, bad ghost.) The tale is at times confusing, juggling multiple ghosts, crooks, and heroines, colliding against one another in fatal fashion. There are no memorable characters and no real themes. (Don't be greedy?) Instead, the film is drenched in atmosphere and driven by raw energy.

The film hooks us with the initial sťance, and hurtles us along so we are never bored. Confused, sometimes, but too thrilled and chilled to worry about why this ghost showed up, or how that girl knew this key plot point. Technically slick and fast paced, Hell of a Night is the most consistently entertaining, popcorn horror feature we received this year.

In the end, we are left with a blood-drenched survivor, crying on a Texas highway. It's so very Texas Chainsaw Massacre. And yes indeed, it was one Hell of a Night. This is one film that lives up to its title.

 

 

 

 

* Sang Papier

 

When a short film arrives from Canada, odds are that it will be comedic rather than dramatic horror. Also that it will incorporate social or political satire. Make of it what you will, but the most politically correct films over the years have come from Canada. Sang Papier (aka Night Crosser) is another typical Canadian entry, in that the film can be interpreted as commentary on illegal immigration, a hot political potato these days. But what makes Sang Papier provocative, rather than heavy-handed, is that one can read multiple messages into it.

 

 

 

Grigore (Alexand Fournier) is a Romanian vampire trying to enter Canada. Sang Papier focuses on his interview with suspicious immigration officials. I won't spoil what occurs, but one can come away thinking that Trump is correct. The West is being infiltrated by murderous illegals. (The nationalist or populist position.) Or that immigrants are harmless, family oriented, and desiring only to assimilate. (The progressive or libertarian position.) And that they should want to assimilate. (The moderate, centrist position.) The vampires in Sang Papier give support to all positions, depending on how one interprets the film.

Sang Papier is technically proficient with a competent cast. Its humor is more dry satire than sitcom belly laughs, so the film's dim and moody lighting is aesthetically appropriate. An added bonus is the clever Nosferatu homage at the film's start. Overall, an intelligent, thought-provoking horror political satire.

 

 

 

 

* The Kind Ones

 

It's odd how every year, films arrive with the same themes or concepts, as if every filmmaker had the same idea all at once. The Kind Ones is another short film about the perils posed by immigrants. As in Sang Papier, the immigrants are East European. A married couple, they've taken in an American foster son. They raise him according to their old country traditions, which include beating the boy as a means of education.

This doesn't go over well with the boy's teacher, Mrs. Andrews (Angela Trotter), who confronts the parents. The father explains that "Our culture is different from yours." Mrs. Andrews retorts "I don't care what your culture is. In this country, in America, our childrens' safety comes first."

 

 

 

Demanding that immigrants assimilate to American culture is a position generally associated with the political right. The Kind Ones is interesting in that Mrs. Andrews argues for assimilation from a progressive perspective. She embraces multiculturalism in that she teaches about Kwanza in class. But patriarchy is one cultural artifact that immigrants must ditch. They can keep their holidays. But no traditions that support violence against women or children.

 

 

Of course, the parents are not as they appear. No, they're not vampires. Closer to werewolves, but not quite. Credit writer/director Jamal Hodge with some originality.

And credit cinematographer Adam Richlin for his beautiful compositions. Not only in his framing of images, but in his use of depth of field. Actors and set pieces are nicely staged to dramatically contrast foreground and background activity.

 

 

For instance, the mother walks in the foreground while father watches TV in the background, both parents moving stiffly. The images themselves are creepy. Father stands in front of a big screen TV, fascinated by the predators on a nature documentary. Sometimes he responds with odd contortions. The mother is artificially perfect in her housewife role, as if it is just a role, ready to be shed. When Mrs. Andrews refuses a tray of fresh baked cookies, the mother tosses the tray to the floor, losing interest in the cookies.

Actors Brandon deSpain and Gjilberta Lucaj are excellent as Mr. & Mrs. Byleth, creating memorably menacing monsters. deSpain's IMDb acting credits are extensive, but The Kind Ones is Lucaj's first role. It should not be her last.

One might read other themes into The Kind Ones. Or one can enjoy the film simply as horror entertainment. There are shocks and surprises, much gore, and great monsters.

 

 

 

 

* Additional Winners

 

 

It's hard to find a zombie film with an original twist. Perhaps that's why The Ones That Stay Behind focuses not on the living dead, but on the living few who have chosen not to flee, trying to eke out normal lives behind barricades. Of course, that too has been done before, but The Ones That Stay Behind rises above previous versions largely on the strength of its cast, and most especially that of its lead actress.

An abused wife and mother, Alice strives for domestic perfection long after her son and husband are dead. Terrified by zombies, unable to make hard choices, frightened and suspicious of the stranger who rescues her, by film's end she discovers her self-worth and self-confidence, overcoming her fears to where she now rescues others.

It's an extensive character arc, incorporating fear, anger, grief, compassion and neurosis, partially repressed by the suspicions and heightened caution typical of a woman used to abuse.

Kelly Lou Dennis wins for Best Dramatic Actress.


 

 

Edgar Allan Poe's Tell Tale Heart has been adapted too many times to track -- on stage, TV, radio, short films -- both as student and professional projects. But no one has ever tried to stretch Poe's brief tale into a feature length film. Until now.

Remarkably, the adaptation stays faithful to the source material. The final scene with the arrival of the police introduces some new dialog into the story, but Poe's first person narrative tale is stretched to feature length mostly by Berkoff's pregnant pauses and onscreen busywork.

Despite Cookson's direction, the film is justly titled Steven Berkoff's Tell Tale Heart. As the madman obsessed with "the old man's eye," Berkoff is nearly the sole performer, dominating the film's 80 minutes in what is essentially a one man show. A heavy burden. Yet his presence is so magnetic and intricately nuanced that we are compelled to watch.

Berkoff avoids the temptation to chew scenery. His lunatic's psychosis simmers beneath the surface, then bubbles over as his speech quickens, tone intensifying, and then simmers down again. About to strike, but pulling back as he struggles to appear sane. Until the opportune moment.

More than any other film this year, Steven Berkoff's Tell Tale Heart's success or failure depended on its lead actor. In a sense, the film is Berkoff and Poe. And in Berkoff, Poe has received a memorable performance for his unforgettable work.

Steven Berkoff wins for Best Dramatic Actor.



Brian's platonic gal pal, Charli, is every dateless nerd's fantasy best friend. She's pretty and she loves video games. She's also sassy, sarcastic, and smart. (You can tell, because she wears glasses.) Always ready with a plan or down for a caper, she not only advises Brian how to score with chicks, she takes the lead in figuring out how to dispose of their bodies once puppy has killed said chicks.

Actress Rachel Swindler has the sort of lively persona necessary for Puppy's sitcom conceit. Clever yet ditzy, part Tina Fey and part Lucille Ball, with a dash of Meg Ryan romcom spunk (Charli secretly carries a torch for Brian), Swindler adds a bright and funny spark to an already bright and funny film.

Rachel Swindler wins for Best Comedic Actress.

 

 

 

 

Whereas Charli is the girlfriend many men want, Joe is the first date many women fear. Outwardly charming, supportive, and attentive -- he even cooks! -- Joe's perfect facade hides a creepy side. He collects ashes -- the cremated remains of dead relatives, pets, and employees. He offers a tearjerker explanation: being close to loved ones helps him get through rough times.

Bob Turton brings a sitcom sensibility to Joe. His rubbery face shifts rapidly from overly jubilant, to overly sorrowful, to overly sensitive, however the situation requires. His expressions are funny, lively, and effectively convey Joe's phoniness.

Women have long complained that the "sensitive nice guy" facade is often just an act aimed at manipulating women. As Joe proves to his date (Melissa Hunter) in Ashes.

Bob Turton wins for Best Comedic Actor.

 

 

 

 

We don't know who -- or what -- that sleazily sultry patron is in Bitch, Popcorn & Blood. She might be a demon or a schizophrenic fantasy from the dark side of Lily's psyche. The credit roll lists her only as La Femme Fatale, so she is certainly meant to be taken as an archetype.

Jane Badler stamps her own strong, catty impression on that wellworn 1940s stock character. Effortlessly evil, Badler is like the little devil on your shoulder. A bad-to-the-bones bitch who goads nice girl Lily to lash out at all the people pissing her off, which Lily does in over-the-top, bloody fashion. Making Badler proud.

Jane Badler wins for Best Supporting Actress.

 

 

 

 

As Algernon Sykes, the villain in The Gatehouse, Linal Haft is a neighborly fellow with a nefarious air. His fluid face is a smiling, sinister river, flowing smoothly from charming to creepy and back again. A cheerful mate whose friendly remarks might conceal a threat, or not. A kindly old man who shows his gun to little girls.

Hitchcock believed that good villains made for good suspense, and (like his fellow Brit, Steven Berkoff) Haft creates a richly textured and nuanced villain. We suspect Haft's Sykes from the start, but can never be sure about him until the end.

Linal Haft wins for Best Supporting Actor.

 

 

Eternity (the little's girl's name) lives with her single dad in The Gatehouse, at the edge of a magical forest. She is a typical enough child protagonist. Precocious, imaginative, bullied at school. At times smart-alecky to the point of annoying, but with enough vulnerability and love for her dad that we don't hate her for it.

Acting guru Konstantin Stanislavski said that small children are natural actors, because they've not yet learned to repress their truthful emotions. They're always at ease, responding in whatever way feels honest.

As Eternity, Scarlett Rayner always performs "in the moment," responding naturally to events about her. A little ball of energy, interposing into every scene like a child seeking attention (such as when she swipes the business card a police woman offers her dad, then waves it at him while the adults ignore her -- The Gatehouse is full of Raynor's little acting gems).

Scarlett Rayner's natural performance and casual charm earns her Best Child Actress.

 

 

 

Like Scarlett Rayner, Kadin Bray gives a natural performance, but with a difference. Far from a ball of energy, Kadin (also the character's name) is a somber, stoic boy, still haunted by the memory of his missing sister -- and by stranger things when he goes camping alone and unearths some mysteries about his sister.

In much of Interlaced, Bray is the sole actor on screen, interacting only with strange lights and noises in the woods. When frightened, he never overacts or mugs for the camera. Through much of the film, he conveys a quiet sadness and seriousness, the result of being forced to grow up too fast by circumstances.

Unlike Steven Berkoff, Bray's role does not involve a feature length monologue. But like Berkoff, Bray's role dominates his film, its success or failure depending largely on him. Interlaced is a simple tale of the supernatural, strongly assisted by Bray's simple but substantive performance.

Kadin Bray wins for Best Child Actor.

 

 

 

 

Night Kaleidoscope is not so much a horror story as a visual experience. We see Edinburgh through the eyes of vampires, the eyes (and mind) of a psychic vampire hunter, and finally, metaphorically, as a city tormented by the tormented.

The film is dreamlike, elusory, impressionistic. Lots of shaky camerawork, frenzied editing (quick cuts and jump cuts), heavy use of lens filters and blurry shots, colored street lights smearing across a twilight or nighttime sky, and an occasional video glitch for a further bit of grittiness.

Night Kaleidoscope is a horror art film that lives up to its name. The script is scant. The story emerges not so much from the actors' dialog as from a collage of images.

Grant McPhee wins for Best Cinematography.

 

 

Creswick is a film of shadows and sounds. Not just the sudden loud noises that startle an audience. Those are easy to pull off. Creswick has those, but also other sounds filled with portent.

When Sam enters her father's carpenter shop late at night, the unduly loud rattling of his machine unnerves us, preparing us for what Sam sees after she silences the machine. There are those unearthly nondiegectic noises when Sam wanders the woods. Also the eerie silence as Colin discusses the past with Sam.

Sound is an active participant in Creswick, creating atmophere and adding texture to the story.

The Best Sound Design award goes to Ryan Granger & Adam Hunt.

 

 

 

In Shanda's River, Emma (Margherita Remotti) is trapped in a time loop, killed each day by masked cultists. The constant time shifts, intercut with diabolic imagery of unknown origin and meaning (nightmares? flashbacks? flashforwards?) calls for careful editing to create mystery without confusion. Rapid cuts at appropriate moments further assist in conveying emotional intensity and terror, without overdoing it in MTV fashion.

Shanda's River is one of several Dario Argento inspired witch films submitted this year. (Appropriately, it hails from Italy.) It's the film that most effectively applies the art of editing to support its story conceit and character arc (Emma's emotional breakdown and subsequent resurgence), while creating an exciting viewing experience.

Giorgio Galbiati wins for Best Editing.

 

 

When Afrodita's (La China Patino) car breaks down, she must spend the night at a spooky hotel. We know she's in trouble when we see the hotel in the distance. Its silhouette resembles the hotel in Psycho. Its interior is likewise ominous, abounding in old furnishings and lamp fixtures, dreary wallpapers and cobwebs.

In any haunted house film, the house (or hotel) itself becomes a character. The production design in Room for Rent ensures that its hotel poses a proper and believable threat to Afrodita.

Jaime Boyero wins for Best Production Design.

 

 

Many entries had slick, professional make-up effects featuring the usual bloody gore. Nicely done, but unexceptional. However, a few films stood out for their originality. The best of these were the monsters in The Kind Ones.

No, that's not a monster to the right. That's one of the monsters' victims. The film has gore, and again, nicely done. But it's the monsters that linger in the mind.

We won't show you the monsters, because the shock value derives partially from their surprisingly ghastly faces. It'd be a shame to spoil that surprise for you. But rest assured, the monsters go far in making The Kind Ones a memorable horror happening.

David Rodriguez wins for Best Make-Up Effects.

 

 

 

 

The Unwilling is a classic haunted house thrill ride. Six people trapped in a house by Satan, who, knowing their fears and desires, throws all manner of terrors and temptations their way. It's the sort of story that calls for a funhouse worth of effects, which the film delivers. Pools of darkness engulf the house, illusions manifest, rooms contract and transform, and much else.

David Stump, Jennifer Law-Stump & Bertone Visuals win for Best Visual Effects.

 

 

 

Because this award is not for Best Music but for Best Music Soundtrack, scores are judged largely by how they interact with and contribute to events onscreen.

From the instant she disembarks the train in Shanda's River, the music's eerily cold tones suggest that unnatural forces threaten Emma. The music (together with a wide angle lens) transforms an ordinary train station into something sinister. The scene itself is an homage to Suzy's exit from the airport in Suspiria, both women leaving the safety of modern public transport for a witch's lair in the woods.

At times the music deepens and intensifies, such as when the cultists attack. Always it remains emotionally distant and imposing, suggesting the impersonal cruelty of the supernatural forces tormenting Emma.

Mauro Crivelli wins for Best Music Soundtrack.

 

 

* The Final Tally

 

Tabloid Witch Award Winners

 

* Best Horror Feature Film .......................... Matthew Chilelli & Ben DeLoose (Escape the Dark)

* Best Dramatic Horror Short Film .............. Natalie Erika James & Christian White (Creswick)

* Best Comedic Horror Short Film .............. Matt Slechter & C. Michael Whaley (Puppy)

* Best Animated Horror Short Film .............. Scott Palazzo (Daily Commute)

* Best Avante-Garde Horror Short Film ...... Dustin M. Rosemark & John Shook (Inferno)

* Best Horror Music Video .......................... Olivier Treiner (Nameless Lands)

* Best Dramatic Actress .............................. Kelly Lou Dennis (The Ones That Stay Behind)

* Best Dramatic Actor .................................. Steven Berkoff (Steven Berkoff's Tell Tale Heart)

* Best Comedic Actress .............................. Rachel Swindler (Puppy)

* Best Comedic Actor .................................. Bob Turton (Ashes)

* Best Supporting Actress ........................... Jane Badler (Bitch, Popcorn & Blood)

* Best Supporting Actor ............................... Linal Haft (The Gatehouse)

* Best Child Actress .................................... Scarlett Rayner (The Gatehouse)

* Best Child Actor ........................................ Kadin Bray (Interlaced)

* Best Cinematography ............................... Grant McPhee (Night Kaleidoscope)

* Best Sound Design ................................... Ryan Granger & Adam Hunt (Creswick)

* Best Editing ............................................... Giorgio Galbiati (Shanda's River)

* Best Production Design ............................ Jaime Boyero (Room for Rent)

* Best Visual Effects .................................... David Stump, Jennifer Law-Stump & Bertone Visuals (The Unwilling)

* Best Make-Up Effects ............................... David Rodriguez (The Kind Ones)

* Best Music Soundtrack ............................. Mauro Crivelli (Shanda's River)

 

Tabloid Witch Honorable Mentions

 

* Alaric S. Rocha (Demonoid 1971)

* Leslie Simpson (Halfway House)

* Nick Barrett (Devil Town)

* Mig Windows & Rory Owens (I Never Can)

* Brian Childs (Hell of a Night)

* Kevin T. Landry & Christine Doyon (Sang Papier)

* Jamal Hodge (The Kind Ones)

 

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