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2018 TABLOID WITCH AWARD WINNERS ANNOUNCED

by Thomas M. Sipos, managing editor [September 28, 2018]

 

 

 

 

 

[HollywoodInvestigator.com]  For the 15th year in a row, the Hollywood Investigator is happy to announce the winners of its Tabloid Witch Awards horror film contest. Winning films came from Belgium, Canada, China, Japan, Russia, Spain, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Every year we like to look at what's trending. "Forest horror" was very big this year. Lots of films about people hiking or camping in the woods, or driving through the woods when their car breaks down. Sometimes these unfortunates met up with a slasher, but more often it was with a supernatural threat.

Cannibals were also big this year. Lots of dark comedies about unsuspecting people winding up as dinner for a nice (often religiously conservative) family of cannibals. Tip to filmmakers: Satirizing 1950s family values might be overdone at this point.

Comedic horror was in low supply this year (and last year). In previous years, there were nearly as many comedic horror entries as for dramatic horror. Maybe it's a reflection on current events, but it seems that people aren't smiling or laughing a whole lot these days.

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.

Here now are 2018's Tabloid Witch Award winning films:


* Best Horror Feature: Ghost Mask: Scar

 

This is a tale of two Japanese sisters. The pretty Miyu (Yurika Akane), and her ugly duckling sister (Miya Sakimoto), who is not named. When the sister loses her fiancé to Miyu, she fleas to South Korea to begin a new life. Once there, she also gets a new face, more by tragic fate than by choice. (Ghost Mask: Scar is plastic surgery horror, a subgenre that extends back to Eyes Without a Face.)

Two years later, Miyu travels to Seoul to search for her sister. Which is difficult, because Miyu is unaware that her sister has changed her appearance. Fortunately (or not), Miyu stumbles upon Hana (Yuha Lee), the plastic surgeon who worked on her sister's face.

Hana has issues of her own. She gave the sister the face of her former lesbian lover, Hyoshin (Sou Hirosawa). Newly reborn as Hyoshin, the sister wants to be Hyoshin, and takes Hana as her lover. Of whom she grows insanely (that's the right word) jealous and possessive.

 

 

 

Ghost Mask: Scar is full of coincidences, largely in how people meet each other. Hana met the sister by accidently hitting her with her car. Or was the sister trying to commit suicide? Was it coincidence, or fate? Karma plays a big part in Eastern religions.

This film has what some term "a slow boil." The first half plays like a dark drama, with scant hints of the crazy, gruesome, and violent brutalities to come. There are some weighty themes. The desire for beauty. The price of beauty. The power of beauty. Hana tells an interviewer that beauty is the power to possess the person you love. When you're beautiful, you can have your pick of men. Or women.

Etsuo Hiratani's script is full of subtleties and surprises. It first appears that Miyu was innocent of attracting the fiancé's interest. But she later confesses that she intentionally broke up the sister's engagement -- but only because she was afraid of losing her sister. An odd motive. But even now, is Miyu being honest? Or is she only saying what the sister wants to hear?

The script is full of little thematic gems that are neatly integrated into the story and emerge upon repeat viewing. Hana's friend (Yona Choi) complains that her boyfriend gave her a fake diamond ring. She'd thought it was real because it looked real. Now that she knows it's fake, she hates the ring. "But it is pretty," Hyoshin replies, raising the question: Is the ring's beauty "fake" because its diamonds are fake? Does plastic surgery convey a lesser, "fake" beauty than natural born beauty?

Production values are excellent, as is the cast. All the major roles (victims and villains) are held by women. Men are peripheral to this story, though their indirect influence is powerful. Being an ugly duckling, the sister is rejected by both father and fiancé (and by her evil stepmother -- it's not like women are without blame), the first steps toward her desperation and eventual insanity.

 

Sou Hirosawa and Yurisa in Ghost Mask Scar

 

The eventual violence is cringe-worthy. Hyoshin first slits her mouth in the manner of a Kuchisake-onna (a traditional Japanese slit-mouthed demon). She then tortures her pretty half-sister by cutting pieces off her beautiful face. The half-sister is paralyzed and feels nothing. Her horror derives not from pain, but from seeing her face slowly being disfigured.

Director Takeshi Sone wisely keeps this initial butchery off camera, letting our minds imagine the worst. This private torture session is followed by Hyoshin's blood-spurting rampage through the streets of Seoul, and an unexpectedly poignant final scene of Miyu coming to terms with her loss.

 

Sou Hirosawa in Ghost Mask Scar

 

Ghost Mask: Scar is an unconventional horror film. Intelligent and literate. Beautiful and brutal. And strangely, emotionally affecting. It has a website.

 

 

 

 

* Best Dramatic Horror Short: Caducea: The Man with the Bark Face

 

We never see Tom's "bark face," despite the film's title. Actually, the title refers not to his face, but to the bark masks that cover it. Tom (Vincent Delré) wears masks to hide his deformity, heightening the contrast with the handsome face of Alain (Guillaume Alexandre), his younger brother.

Caducea begins when Alain is apparently called back to his childhood home by his elderly mother (Marie-Jeanne Maldague). In returning, Alain recalls growing up with the deformed Tom, who has long since moved into the surrounding woods to hide from normal society. Alain then discovers the secret of a hideous family curse ...

 

 

 

Caducea straddles the fence of past and present, fantasy and horror. Alain lives in our modern world of cell phones and cars. But his childhood home is a fairy tale like castle, isolated in a kind of Black Forest setting. It's all very Brothers Grimm. (How does his aristocratic mother afford such a place in contemporary socialist Europe?)

Much of the film's horror derives from not knowing what's under that mask. Despite Tom's apparently affectionate overtures, we fear him because we cannot see his face. Suspense builds as audiences await Tom's unmasking. That Phantom of the Opera moment. But filmmaker Christophe Mavroudis defies our expectations in the most unexpected way. No, Tom isn't secretly handsome. Instead, we never see his face. The mask is never removed.

It's a brave and curious choice on the part of Mavroudis. And I haven't really spoiled the film for you, because Tom's face wasn't the big secret. The film offers other secrets, darker still.

Caducea's production design and cinematography are lavish, lush, and aesthetically appropriate. The creepy masks and family portraits, the shadows and silhouettes, create a sense of gothic decay. The nocturnal forest is photographed in dimly irirsescent blue and green hues, enlivening the woods with a foreboding, magical mood. One can believe that monsters and curses still haunt this corner of modern Europe.

Caducea is a Belgium production, a horror art film much like The Company of Wolves. The film has no website. Only a Facebook page.

 

 

 

 

* Best Comedic Horror Short: Field of Screams

 

Frost & Riley (Jason A. Young and Emily Butler) are paranormal investigators in the mold of Mulder & Scully. That is, if someone had dropped the mold, shattered it, then tried to fix it with duct tape. It does explain why Frost & Riley are freelancing in the gig economy, rather than enjoying federal job security at the FBI.

In Field of Screams, their latest gig finds them at a farm, investigating a spooky scarecrow. During which, the film parodies The-X-Files, Deliverance, and possibly even House of 1000 Corpses. (The demon looks like Captain Spaulding.) Those are old targets, but retro satire was a theme this year. Several Tabloid Witch entries reached back to the 1950s for material, spoofing bug-eyed monster movies, The Twilight Zone, and Eisenhower Era family values.

 

 

 

More importantly, Field of Screams was the funniest and most entertaining comedic horror short this year. Like any classic skit, it holds up to repeat viewing. A lean script and tight editing avoid padded dialog, boring exposition, and long pauses. I could do without the Deliverance references, but there are some neat zingers, delivered by a talented cast. (D.R. Anderson and Sarah Junette Dahmen deserve mention as the farm couple.) The demon's makeup and voice are freakishly funny.

Technically, Field of Screams is an episode in the Mr. Dark web series, but since series creator (and writer and director) Jesse James Hennessey only produces one Mr. Dark episode per year, it's not much of a "series." We hope Mr. Hennessey will increase his annual output, so we might see Frost & Riley more often.

Mr. Hennessey's production company has a website.

 

 

 

 

* Best Animated Horror Short: The House of the Seven Gables

 

Ben Wickey's adaptation of the Nathaniel Hawthorne classic is admirable not only for its skill, but for its ambition. Line drawings (cell animation?) are used for flashback scenes, and stop-motion for "present day" New England. Some of the visuals appear to be inspired by Tim Burton, yet Wickey contributes his own originality and imagination to his work. The attack of the flying skulls is colorful and arresting. Cute but spooky. Lighting, sound design, and music are all first rate.

 

The House of the Seven Gables by Ben Wickey

 

The House of the Seven Gables by Ben Wickey

 

The professionalism and artistry demonstrated in The House of the Seven Gables is all the more remarkable because Wickey submits it as a student film. (He is a recent graduate of the California Institute of the Arts.) If this is his skill level upon graduation, he should have a promising career ahead of him.

 

 

 

 

* Best Avant-Garde Horror Short: Phototaxis

 

Melissa Ferrari's Phototaxis draws parallels between West Virginia's Mothman legend and the current opioid epidemic haunting rural America. Her film analyzes how belief systems influence both our perception of mysterious and tragic events, and our subsequent paths to healing and recovery.

Phototaxis is a mixed media animation work in which "natural materials and pastel-on-paper palimpsest animation are woven together using a multiplane and analog overhead projection." That's how Ferrari describes her technique. I admit, I don't know what that means, but the results are impressive.

The film's scripted voiceovers are direct quotes from news clippings, eyewitness accounts of mothman sightings, folklores, and excerpts from "the Narcotics Anonymous Big Book."

 

 

Phototaxis is a beautiful, moody, thought-provoking work of art, encouraging repeat viewing and rumination over its weighty themes. History records eyewitness accounts of all manner of strange sighting over the millennia -- angels, demons, UFOs, and mothmen. These phenomena exist, but what are they? What do recovery programs mean by "a higher power"? What is the nature of God and the supernatural? How helpless are we in this universe? How can we take control of our reality and our health?

As with The House of the Seven Gables, Phototaxis is a student film. Melissa Ferrari produced it through the "Experimental Animation MFA" program at CalArts. She has a website.

 

 

 

* Best Horror Web Series: Evil Cat

 

Cats never forget and never forgive. After Annie steps on Aiden's tail, the cat vows revenge. Annie's pleas for understanding and forgiveness fall on deaf ears. Every episode, with the persistence and inventiveness of Wile E. Coyote, Aiden concocts a convoluted new scheme to murder his human companion.

Shot in Portland, Evil Cat is a low-budget, comedic horror Portlandia, satirizing some of the same targets. Seeking to heal her failed relationship with her cat -- before he kills her -- Annie reaches out to a cat psychic, a therapy group, and assorted flakey friends and boyfriends. The acting is mostly hammy and over-the-top, but appropriate for the subject matter. The production values reflect the show's modest means, yet the result is delightful, humorous, and cute. Evil Cat entertains.

 

 

 

Evil Cat is the most original web series submitted this year. Twenty-seven episodes over a span of three years. Enough for a feature film. The series has since been reedited into a 33 minute "short," but the material works better as a series.

Evil Cat stars Annie Rimmer-Weeks, who also wrote and produced. (Jason Williams directed.) Annie plays Annie. Her cat Aiden plays Aiden. He has a website.

 

 

 

 

* Best Horror Music Video: U.S. Butcher

 

Directed by Aleksey Smirnov and performed by Smothered Bowels, U.S. Butcher draws from America's grindhouse rural horror tradition, taking inspiration from such films as 2000 Maniacs, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Motel Hell, and The Devil's Rejects. Smirnov's video boasts a boldly impressive production design, looking to have been shot in America, with American actors, houses, and props. Which is a real trick, if, as seems to be the case, the video was shot in Russia. All the credited names are Russian, and Smirnov represents his music video as having been shot in the Russian Federation.

 

 

 

Aesthetically, U.S. Butcher is brutal grindhouse imagery, illustrating aggressive grindhouse metal. Music and visuals support and reinforce each other. Production values are high.

But Smirnov's music video is more intriguing thematically. One heavy metal site describes U.S. Butcher as an "homage to classics of the horror/slasher genre." To American horror, from Russia with love. It is that. Yet is there a deeper theme? The American media has lately been demonizing Russia. The nation can seemingly do no right. (Ironically, it's America's "progressives" who seem intent on reigniting the Cold War.) In that political context, U.S. Butcher can be interpreted as a rebuke. A reminder that although Russia is not perfect, America too has its homegrown demons.

 

 

 

 

* Honorable Mention

 

 

 

The Honorable Mention prizes, like the "Best ... Film" prizes, are shared by the film's writer and director.

 

 

 

 

* Camp Death III in 2D

 

Camp Death III in 2D evokes Airplane. The jokes are lowbrow and politically incorrect (emphasizing slapstick, gross-outs, ethnic humor, double entendres, parodies of past films and cultural icons), and are fired in rapid succession. If you didn't find this joke funny, there's no time to grow bored. There's another joke arriving in 30 seconds.

Camp Death III also incorporates a technique not found in Airplane. The film is slightly sped up, the actors moving in the herky-jerky fashion of silent film stars. As a result, the dialog appears dubbed (albeit by the original actors), so the lips don't quite sync to the voices. This playfulness with motion and dubbing evokes the underground films of Damon Packard. Both Packard and Camp Death III writer/director Matt Frame (no, there is no Camp Death I and II) put this technique to comedic effect. But whereas Packard's work is thematically weighty, Frame is content to settle for laughs.

 

 

 

And whereas Airplane focused its parodies on airline disaster films (a popular genre in the 1970s), Camp Death III targets 1980s slasher films. Gorehounds will enjoy identifying the references. Those outside of slasher fandom will find Camp Death III difficult to appreciate.

Most of the Canadian horror films we've gotten over the years were comedic. That's true of no other nation. For whatever reason, Canuk indie horror leans toward humor. Camp Death III continues that tradition. Yes, its low budget shows, but that only enhances its satirical punch. Most 1980s slasher films were shot on a shoestring. The film boasts some nice visual effects and a talented cast (though the sped up motion makes it hard to judge how they'd perform in normal circumstances).

Most importantly, Camp Death III in 2D attains its goals. The film is both funny and entertaining. It has no website. Only a Facebook page.

 

 

 

* S

 

Juan José Patón's S is obviously inspired by Suspiria. The film reeks of Dario Argento. Yet while many filmmakers have copied Argento's style over the decades, none have so closely captured it. You'd think the master himself had made it.

There are the colored lights. The striking compositions. The arresting sound design. The visceral gore. And a tale (scripted by Verónica Cervilla) of a young American woman, a student in modern Europe, caught up in a web of ancient Satanic witchcraft. No, not Germany, but Spain. And not a ballet student. Mary (Tania Serrano) is a graduate student of psychiatry, newly assigned a patient known only as S. (A name that hints at both Satan and Suspiria.)

 

 

 

Most horror films are like something else you've seen dozens of times before. Some are well made, but they just lay there. One appreciates the artistry and the craft, but the film is just "going through the motions." Not so S.

S has artistry and craft, but S is also dynamically entertaining. Patón has captured the look and feel of an Argento film, while creating something original. S is no parody. Nor is it predictable. S hooks your interest from the start. It's an intellectually intriguing, emotionally gripping, visceral assault on the senses that drags you along on the thrill ride that horror is supposed to be.

 

 

Patón even tosses a bit of Lucio Fulci into his Argento mix. Specifically with an extended gouging of eyes. We all know how Fulci had a thing for "eye horror."

The film's marketing describes Mary as an American, but Serrano fails to pull it off. Her Spanish accent is identical to that of the film's other Spanish actors. Patón should have cast an American actress, or at least, an actress who could do a convincing American accent. But that's a quibble. When I first saw S, I assumed Mary was another Spanish character, and that didn't lessen S's impact for me. Apart from her inappropriate accent, Serrano's performance is top notch.

S is a damn near perfect horror film. Caducea has more originality and weightier themes, but for pure entertainment, S is hard to beat.

 

 

 

 

* Goodbye Old Friend

 

Goodbye Old Friend does everything right. There is no time wasted on exposition. The story begins after the murder. We see a bloody corpse. A young woman locked in her bedroom, terrified of what's out in the hall. She stares at a mysterious light pulsating beneath her door. What's making that light? Why does it make no sound? A handwritten note is slipped under the door. What is out there?

Goodbye Old Friend is a masterpiece of minimalist horror, demonstrating that a low budget is no barrier to high terror. Fear is generated with just lights, silence, some quietly intense acting (by Corrie Legge), and an imaginative story. The monster is refreshingly original, one rarely seen in horror films. The imaginary childhood friend who refuses to fade away.

An imaginative story about an imaginary friend turned bad.

 

 

 

Horror is one of the more emotional genres. Like music, effective horror has rhythm and cadence. Goodbye Old Friend balances periods of silence with jarring noises (but not overly loud, as many horror films mistakenly do). The sound design supports the story's increasing mystery, its building tension, and its sudden dramatic revelations.

Then, when we think we are at the film's end, there is one final surprise. Bobby, the imaginary friend, has entered the bedroom.

Writer/director Rafael De Leon Jr.'s next move is remarkably impressive and effective. We both see and don't see Bobby. As with Maldague's Caducea, De Leon knows how much to show, how much to imply, and how much to leave to our imagination.

Goodbye Old Friend has a website.

 

 

 

 

* Off Duty

 

Police Constable Layton (Becki Pantling) is called to investigate a haunting in a warehouse. It's something she performs "off duty," perhaps because the higher ups would frown upon her psychic gifts. She can commune with ghosts.

Ghost hunters are a tired and overdone subgenre, but talented filmmakers can always resurrect dead tropes. Becki Pantling does so with Off Duty. The film is a one-woman production, starring, written, and directed by Pantling. When a filmmaker wears so many hats, she risks self-indulgence, but Pantling avoids that trap. The film does not overly and unnecessarily focus on her character. It doesn't feel like a vanity project.

Instead, Off Duty is a spooky little ghost story, creepy and atmospheric. It successfully captures that X-Files vibe. A police procedural with a serious tone and unexpected, original twists. PC Layton isn't just a ghost hunter. She's a vigilante.

Production values are high. Story, acting, and art direction contribute to that aforementioned creepy atmosphere. But the lighting is especially impressive. DP Jamie MacLeod uses two distinct lighting setups. One for the normal world and one for the astral realm that Layton enters. Warm yellow lights for normalcy. Cold blue lights for the astral plain.

 

Becki Pantling's Off Duty

 

Becki Pantling's Off Duty

 

Becki Pantling's Off Duty

 

Becki Pantling's Off Duty

 

The concept is similar to the lighting schemes used in Insidious and Stranger Things (to depict "The Further" and the "Upside Down," respectively), but simpler and on a much lower budget. Thankfully, Pantling and MacLead avoid the use of green nightvision. Ghost hunter films should give that a rest.

Off Duty is a short film, but its marketing material indicates that it's a promo for a larger project. A feature or series, perhaps? That's normally not a good sign. "Promo films" usually fail as short films because there is no closure. Such films set up the characters and situation, and after some struggle or revelation, the protagonist leaves the scene, and we sense that now begins the real story. Roll end credits.

Happily, this is not the case with Off Duty. There is closure. The film can work as a series episode or a self-contained short. There are no missing elements or loose strings.

Off Duty comes to us from the United Kingdom. It has a website.

 

 

* Additional Winners

 

 

 

Marina Esteve in CompulsionCompulsión is an old fashioned psycho film, evoking Frenzy rather than Halloween. With an emphasis on Hitchcockian cat & mouse, the film is more suspense than horror, though things get very brutal and gory in the third act.

That's when Marina Esteve discovers her mysterious boyfriend's dark secret. Until then, Esteve struggles with her own secrets and suspicions.

We follow Esteve through her emotional journey from annoyances and doubts, her mounting grief and rage, then the final horror. Through it all, Esteve expresses much without saying much, engaging the viewer so that her plight becomes ours.

No one in Compulsión says much. It's a lean script, low on dialog, heavy on visuals. So much so that we never learn any of the female characters' names. This reinforces the story's mystery and universality (i.e., ladies, someday this story might be your story!)

Marina Esteve wins for Best Dramatic Actress.

 

 

 

 

 

When we first meet Jack in Lost in Apocalypse, he is a goofy, servile chauffer. Apologetic to his boss, tongue-tied before beautiful women, he has all the earmarks of comic relief. The dofus we laugh at while the more important characters fight zombies.

But unexpectedly, early in the film, Jack reclaims his dignity by politely asking a hotel clerk to speak to him with common courtesy. Jack isn't loud or belligerent about it. He remains humble and respectful. But it's a powerful scene.

Indeed, it's the film's most important scene. Its Golden Moment.

Without Jack, Lost in Apocalypse would be just another well-crafted zombie film. Technically proficient, but hollow and forgettable. But from this point forward, Jack is no longer a caricature -- or even a character. He is a human being with human concerns. He emotionally engages the audience. We would continue to care about Jack, and his story, even if no zombies showed up.

Jack's character arc continues to develop throughout the film, revealing more about his personal history, his motivations, his loves and fears and aspirations. We come to understand the other characters (especially Helen and Rich) primarily through Jack's eyes. His character anchors and carries the film.

Martin Yang wins for Best Dramatic Actor.



Tori Hendry in Creatures of the NightAmelia is a typical Gen Z slacker. She uses men, betrays her girlfriends, and irritates her mom. It also doesn't help that she's a vampire. Where does a late night party girl with no job, and no friends, crash after her mom evicts her? Preferably before the sun comes up?

In Creatures of the Night, Amelia is doubly that. She's a vampire and a party girl who bar hops all night and sleeps all day. She's also twice a parasite. When not sucking blood, she's leeching off her "friends" (if she can be said to have any).

"Party girl" is an apt term because in both appearance and mannerisms, actress Tori Hendry evokes Parker Posey in Party Girl. Like Posey, Hendry employs the exaggerated gestures and rubbery facial expressions of a skilled comedic actress. Also like Posey, Hendry displays a vulnerability, without which Amelia would be insufferable. Hendry is not (yet) the equal of Posey, but she's young and talented, and has time to grow.

Tori Hendry wins for Best Comedic Actress.

 

Jason Asuncion in Camp Death III in 2DJesus Hernandez Jr. goes through life with a mean glare and ugly grimace to match. People know to steer clear. But when no one's looking, he bursts into song and dance. It's his plea for understanding. A lament about the needs of a misunderstood psychotic killer, but presented in such a fey, gay fashion, we expect rainbows and unicorns to drop from the sky.

Camp Death III in 2D is an ensemble comedy. The size of the roles, and the quality of performances, are so similar, it's hard to pick any one outstanding cast member. Until Jason Asuncion performs his musical act.

He is funny when mean and morose. (Asuncion is a bouncer in real life). Funny when silly and giddy. And the man can sing.

Jason Asuncion wins for Best Comedic Actor.

 

Susana Abaitua in CompulsionThe role of a prostitute is an often thankless one, especially when she's the victim of a mad slasher. A skimpily dressed piece of meat, mouthy and sleazy, waiting to be killed.

But in Compulsión, Susana Abaitua's hooker is a more substantive character. She's a college student. She's personable. She's friendly, flirtatious, frightened, and fierce. Succumbing to hopeless terror, but also rising to brave resistance. And she remains real throughout, never devolving into a silly, "kickass grrl power" comic book caricature.

Susana Abaitua wins for Best Supporting Actress.

 

 

Horror films derive much of their power from their villains. As Dr. Volkov, the head of the psychiatric hospital in S, Antonia Mayans is a striking presence.

Initially charming and supportive of Mary, Volkov later seethes when she asks to be relived of the mysterious patient, then finally reveals his full demonic side when he channels Satan.

Dr. Volkov joins the ranks of horror's memorable mad doctors and warlocks. And Antonio Mayans wins for Best Supporting Actor.

 

 

Jose Casas in SRocio Garcia-Pérez exhausts her cinematic bag of tricks for S. Colored lights, wide angle lens, extreme close-ups, fast moving camera, canted frames, rack focus, it's all there. But in her skilled hands, these are no vain attempts at cheap thrills. No amateurish or ignorant copycatting of Argento's style, without an understanding of how and when to apply these tools.

Garcia-Pérez's dynamic compositions and arresting visuals grip the viewer on an almost subliminal level, generating unease, fear, and horror, while fiercely propelling the story both emotionally and dramatically.

Rocio Garcia-Pérez wins for Best Cinematography.

 

Tania Serrano in SS, like Suspiria (the similarities are impossible to ignore), is noteworthy not only for its primary colors and striking compositions, but also for its dynamic sound design. Tones range from "safe" whimsical muzak early in the film, to an increasing cacophony of unnerving, discordant noises as Satanic evil tightens its grip on Mary.

The sound design has the added benefit of nicely reinforcing the images. An otherwise banal scene (e.g., Mary's therapy session with a silent S) suddenly feels threatening, both because of the wide-angle closeups, and because of the strident nondiegetic noises.

Horror films often rely on sound to impose sinister meaning onto ordinary situations. S takes full advantage of sound's potential to unease, unnerve, and terrify.

The Best Sound Design award goes to Manuel Ruiz and Ana García.

 

Paco Manzanedo in CompulsionCompulsión is shot in documentary, shaky-cam style. This lends a feeling of objective realism to the proceedings, and a certain voyeuristic, cold-blooded detachment. The cinematography is supported by the editing, which is similarly rough. Occasional jump cuts reinforce the documentary impact of the jittery visuals.

Yet the jump cuts also impose their own subjective understanding onto the objective images, admirably supplementing rather than contradicting them. Esteve lives in a fragmenting world. Her understanding about her boyfriend, her romantic life story, her future as a mother, are coming apart.

Finally, the shaky-cam and jump cuts convey Esteve's emotional turmoil over her suspicions and discoveries. Thus do the cinematography and editing also work on a mutually reinforcing subjective level.

Miguel A. Trudu wins for Best Editing.

 

The castle like house in Caducea has the necessary anachronistic ambiance for this modern, yet old-fashioned, dark fairy tale. The stately, somber rooms and hallways add their own gothic veneer. But it's the masks that set the story's emotional tone.

We never see Tom's diseased face. Only a succession of masks, which interact with Tom's coarse voice and bent body (actor Vincent Delré) to reflect his changing moods. At times he is childlike, playful, affectionate, melancholy, resigned, pleading, and enraged.

Throughout Tom's character arc, the masks serve multiple nuanced purposes. They inspire fear of the wretch that lies beneath, but also sympathy for his plight. A morbid curiosity to lift the mask, but also trepidation at the prospect. And a fascination of something both monstrous and magical.

Tom is Caducea's most memorable character, his plight and personality reminiscent of Shelly's Frankenstein monster. Largely because of the masks.

David Hermans wins for Best Production Design.

 

 

 

The Conduit directed by John HaleIn the 1980s and 1990s, Full Moon Entertainment produced a lot of "soft horror" films, direct to VHS. I call them "soft horror" because, with few exceptions, the horror was diluted with whimsy, silliness, and fake rubber monsters. These weren't hardcore grindhouse films. They weren't dark, or creepily atmospheric, or intelligent. They were kitschy fun.

The Conduit aims to recreate that Full Moon horror aesthetic with a Lovecraftian tale about a scientist (Andrew, played by Jason Turner) who opens a portal to another dimension. This admits monsters into our world. (Remember From Beyond?)

These monsters come in three waves. Andrew first battles a diminutive demon (think Puppetmaster) who is fierce, but with a whimsical streak. Then comes a much larger, snake-like monster. And when that's gone, Andrew's relief turns to dejection when he sees a dreadlocked giant towering over him. (Sort of how Ash felt at the end of Evil Dead 2.)

The Conduit's monsters are rubbery retro creations, neat but not too scary, with a bit of personality. Appropriate for that full Full Moon experience. Some entries this year had slicker monsters, but The Conduit's were not only nicely made, they were aesthetically appropriate. They not only functioned as monsters in a horror film, but they helped recreate an earlier era of horror filmmaking.

Cody Ruch wins for Best Make-Up Effects.

 

The Conduit directed by John Hale

The Conduit opens with a VHS recording of Andrew and his girlfriend, followed by his confessing his "mad science" experiments on that VHS tape. Thus is The Conduit's "period piece" conceit established.

What follows resembles a cheesy monster movie from the 1980s or 1990s. There are the extra-dimensional (Lovecraftian) billowing clouds, the primary colored light flashes, evocative of that bygone era.

As with the rubber monsters, the visual effects are both retro and aesthetically appropriate to the film's conceit. They also contribute to The Conduit's "cheesy fun" entertainment value.

John Hale win for Best Visual Effects.

 

 

 

 

Lindsey Lemke in CeciliaThis award is not for Best Music, but for Best Music Soundtrack. Thus scores are judged largely by how they interact with and contribute to events onscreen.

Many entries' music supported the film's story and themes, whereas Cecilia's music is indispensible to the film's overall aesthetic conceit.

This medieval period piece about witchcraft is a visually accurate homage to 1970s erotic Euro-horror (The Devil's Nightmare comes to mind), but the wrong music would undermine that effect. Jesse Tabish's retro score complements the film's ethereal, softly focused images in a manner that's, yes, aesthetically indispensible. To a significant extent, the music makes the film.

Jesse Tabish wins for Best Music Soundtrack.

 

 

* The Final Tally

 

* Best Horror Feature Film ............................... Takeshi Sone & Etsuo Hiratani (Ghost Mask: Scar)

* Best Dramatic Horror Short Film ................... Christophe Mavroudis (Caducea)

* Best Comedic Horror Short Film ................... Jesse James Hennessy (Field of Screams)

* Best Animated Horror Short Film ................... Ben Wickey (The House of the Seven Gables)

* Best Avante-Garde Horror Short Film ........... Melissa Ferrari (Phototaxis)

* Best Horror Web Series ................................ Annie Rimmer-Weeks & Jason Williams (Evil Cat)

* Best Horror Music Video ............................... Aleksey Smirnov (U.S. Butcher)

* Best Dramatic Actress .................................. Marina Esteve (Compulsión)

* Best Dramatic Actor ...................................... Martin Yang (Lost in Apocalypse)

* Best Comedic Actress .................................. Tori Hendry (Creatures of the Night)

* Best Comedic Actor ...................................... Jason Asuncion (Camp Death III in 2D)

* Best Supporting Actress ............................... Susana Abaitua (Compulsión)

* Best Supporting Actor ................................... Antonio Mayans (S)

* Best Cinematography ................................... Rocio Garcia-Pérez (S)

* Best Sound Design ....................................... Manuel Ruiz & Ana García (S)

* Best Editing ................................................... Miguel A. Trudu (Compulsión)

* Best Production Design ................................ David Hermans (Caducea)

* Best Make-Up Effects .................................. Cody Ruch (The Conduit)

* Best Visual Effects ....................................... John Hale (The Conduit)

* Best Music Soundtrack ................................ Jesse Tabish (Cecilia)

* Honorable Mention ....................................... Matt Frame (Camp Death III in 2D)

* Honorable Mention ....................................... Juan José Patón & Verónica Cervilla (S)

* Honorable Mention ....................................... Rafael De Leon Jr. (Goodbye Old Friend)

* Honorable Mention ....................................... Becki Pantling (Off Duty)

 

 

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