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Tabloid Witch Awards

Weekly Universe




by Thomas M. Sipos, managing editor [October 1, 2019]




[]  For the 16th 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 Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Every year we look at what's trending. This year saw a surprisingly large number of avant-garde horror films -- shorts and features. Most years, there are very few. This year, it's a flood of surreal images and bizarro storytelling.

We also saw many "proof of concept" shorts. Such films are advertisements for an intended feature, and thus often lack the closure required for an effective short story. Even so, some of them were good enough to take home awards.

Comedic horror, in low supply these past two years, saw an uptick, especially for feature length films. We received a greater than usual number of animation entries. Witches were popular this year. Hardly any zombies. And "personal disintegration" was a popular theme this year.

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 2019's Tabloid Witch Award winning films:

* Best Horror Feature: Exit 0


Billy (Gabe Fazio) and Lisa (Augie Duke) are a thirtysomething Manhattan couple seeking a quiet weekend in a seaside town in New Jersey. But as they approach town, strange things occur. Little things, like a stranger at a public restroom who displays sudden aggression. Not really dangerous. But unsettling nonetheless

Exit 0 has no gore or big budget special effects. A passing shadow is the height of it. Instead, it has an intriguing story, engaging characters, strong acting, and a creepily suffocating atmosphere that implies hidden threats and mysteries. We never see a ghost, but its presence is felt. It's hard to think of another ghost film that implies so much with so little. There are the odd bumps in the night, the weird strangers, the closed drawer that was previously open. (Or so Billy says -- we never see the drawer close.) There's even an Old Salt who tells tales of shipwrecks and hauntings.



What really anchors the story are its characters. This is no haphazard haunting, but one that is interwoven with Billy's own personal demons. Like all great films, the more one watches Exit 0, the more one's understanding and appreciation grows. Was it a ghost? Or were Billy's repressed memories surfacing in a filtered way, because a sudden and complete recollection would be too painful?

Yes, we've seen that trope before, often done in a hackneyed manner. But Exit 0's revelations come as a surprise, and its execution is superb. The cast are uniformly excellent. Fazio strikes the right balances over a wide emotional range -- mildly annoyed, teasing and testy toward Lisa, increasingly unnerved, measured tones as he tries to appear rational, struggling to maintain control, finally losing it. Duke likewise hits the right notes as his comforting girlfriend, maintaining a strong presence while never stealing focus from Billy, whose story it is. Supporting players are comfortable in their roles, creating distinctive characters in potentially cliched, throwaway roles (the innkeeper, the detective, the Old Salt, the alcoholic writer).

Top that off with slick production values. Such as the hotel's creepy atmosphere, which is enhanced (or created?) by some beautifully moody lighting. Overall, writer/director E.B. Hughes has crafted an entertaining, memorable, and artistic ghost story.



* Best Horror Documentary: The Hat Man


Director Kyle J. Macias is a man obsessed. He's completed several short films about sleep paralysis and/or the Hat Man. Those are his recurring topics. (Similar to Erich von Daniken and his focus on ancient astronauts.) And so, with all that research under his belt, Macias has been building up to this: a feature length documentary on the subject.

The Hat Man is a dark figure who appears at night. He's part of that modern pantheon of strange creatures popularized by AM radio's George Noory and the late Art Bell. Although Hat Men most closely resemble Shadow People, they also overlap with ghosts, aliens, inter-dimentional beings, Slender Man, Men in Black, the Green Man, et al. Macias's documentary covers some of these related creatures, including Shadow Men, UFO Abductees, and Djinn (i.e., genies).





The Hat Man: Documented Cases of Pure Evil (the film's full title) follows a traditional documentary format. Interviews with paranormal experts and people who've seen the Hat Man. Artists sketches from those eyewitness encounters. Reenactments of Hat Man sightings. All of it set to appropriately ominous music.

It's a slick, infomative, and entertaining documentary. You don't have to believe to enjoy. You can study the Hat Man as an acutal supernatural creature, or you can turn off the lights on Halloween night and watch The Hat Man for goosebumps.



* Best Dramatic Horror Short: The Music of John Low


When he was a sensitive young boy, John Low's mother insisted he learn the violin. But an abusive father, and the trenches of the Great War, have hardened John. He no longer plays violin. He's a private eye. He takes on tough cases. Like retrieving an occult book stolen by the evil Professor Crowly (sic) from the library of Miskatonic University.

While not based on a tale by H.P. Lovecraft, The Music of John Low is Lovecraftian inspired. Horror noir that's also horror art, John Low is a lyrical film, rich in atmosphere and classical music. The character of Low is intriguing, memorable, and deeply sympathetic. Like many noir detectives, he bears scars, both physical and emotional. A tough guy with a soft spot for damsels in distress.




Writer/director Marko Kattilakoski's team does a great job in recreating the interwar period on a low budget, in terms of costumes and set designs. An especially challenging task, given that the film is set in the United States (references to the FBI), yet shot in Sweden. Bengt Westin is especially well cast as the villainous Professor Crowly. In his ceremonial robes and poses, he looks like the real Aleister Crowley.

Naturally, there's the usual Lovecraftian tentacled monster. Kattilakoski wisely opts for less is more when showing the creature. This might partially be because his budget didn't allow for expensive visual effects, but it also works aesthetically. By giving us only glimpses of the beast, Kattilakoski eschews gross images in favor of visual poetry. John's final confrontation with the monster draw transcendent beauty from horror and death.



* Best Comedic Horror Short: The Witch Hunters Are Coming


We received several mocumentaries this year, parodying different television formats. The Witch Hunters Are Coming targets reality shows such as COPS. But instead of following police on patrol, this film tracks two witch hunters who work for Britain's Occult Management Department.

Witchcraft is once again illegal in the United Kingdom. Siddarth and "Dorothy from Kansas" are tasked to investigate accused witches, collect evidence, and if circumstances warrant, terminate with extreme prejudice. Dorothy is ever prepared with her bucket of water for just such eventualities.

The Witch Hunters Are Coming succeeds on three levels. It successfully satirizes witches in popular culture, making references to Snow White and The Wizard of Oz. It also parodies reality TV. There's the hyper-dramatic music, the producers trying to squeeze tension from every mundane incident. The hosts who address the camera during slow moments when nothing's happening, either with filler material or a promise of something exciting soon to happen. It's all very cute and entertaining.



But we also discern a theme. The term "witch hunt" has come to mean persecution of a politically unpopular person or group. And so, on a third level, the film functions as political commentary. By some reports, Britain is becoming an increasingly PC society, speech ever more restricted, the police and local authorities ever more intrusive. Siddarth and Dorothy work in cooperation with London's local councils (a real political entity). They are government agents going after politically unpopular -- or even imaginary? -- villains.

The Witch Hunters Are Coming can be enjoyed as an innocent comedy. Yet its thematic content, intentional or not, gives the film an added dimension, raising it above mere laughs, into something intriguing and thought provoking.

Written and directed by James Atkins.



* Best Animated Horror Short: Paranoia


A woman can't sleep at night. Wandering about her apartment, she discovers hidden cameras everywhere. Watching her. After she removes the lenses, as many as she can find, she sees the eyes. Eyes everywhere. Watching her. She begins removing them ...

Paranoia is a student film from De Montfort University in Leicester. Its animation is rougher than of some other entries (it's a one animator project), but it excels in other ways. Its horror is horrific. Some images are cringe-worthy (you might not want to look), but without being gratuitously gross.

The color palette is well chosen. Mostly shades of gray with some black, very little white, and day-glo red (and briefly, orange). The heavy use of grays effectively portrays a nighttime world, but also creates an appropriately dreary mood. The troubled insomniac might well feel like an oppressively never-ending night is crushing down on her. Against this somber grayness, the day-glo colors are a piercing, visual scream.





The images are effectively supported by Connor Snape's music composition. Low, somber tones (musically gray), punctuated by high-pitched shrill ones (day-glo red).

Paranoia also has a topical theme. Google and social media are monitoring our internet searches, purchases, comments, likes and dislikes. Hackers secretly watch us through our laptop cameras. Cell phones log our movements via GPS. Their microphones are secretly listening, as is Alexa. Governments, corporations, and private snoops are all spying on us. People are being doxed and punished for unpopular beliefs. One has good reason to be paranoid.

Paranoia was written and directed by Katherine Lindhorst, who did all the animation.



* Best Avant-Garde Horror Short: Queen of the Dead


Jacqueline (Trista Robinson) returns to her late parents' home for a respite from her stressful career. She's an author whose last book suffered disappointing reviews and sales. Back home, she meets her uncle (Greg Standifer), who is not the priest he appears to be, but leader of a sinister pagan cult.

Innocent young woman lured by trusted friends and family into demonic doings is an old trope. Rosemary's Baby is the classic template, but other examples include Satan's Slave, Necromancy, and Alison's Birthday. Queen of the Dead excels not in the originality of its tale, but in the telling.

Queen of the Dead is filmed mostly in black & white. It initially feels like a silent film due to its lack of dialog, but also because it uses irises to frame or focus attention. Thus Jacqueline's first utterance comes as a jolt. A silent film that suddenly talks. But we're also jolted by her girlishly squeaky voice. Its high pitch feels incongruent with the character that we've formed in our minds. A mature woman of some literary success, who suddenly speaks like a 10-year-old.



This oddity works to Queen of the Dead's advantage, which is a wellspring of weirdness. Among other films, Queen evokes Carnival of Souls. Queen's stark black & white photography, especially of Jacqueline when in her pasty white makeup, recalls the ghosts in Carnival. The woodland Wiccan dance, filmed in soft-focus pastel colors, evokes the pagan dance in A Name for Evil. The Wicker Man also comes to mind. A modern person deceitfully drawn into a Wiccan blood sacrifice.

Other oddities abound. The cemetery is obviously a collection of miniature tombstones. Why not film a real cemetery? Perhaps a nod to German expressionism. The ending is surreal. Jacqueline both embraces and renounces her demonic destiny, choosing a third fate that makes sense only in the context of "dream logic." Its emotional impact recalls the odd ending to the equally surreal Lemora: A Child's Tale of the Supernatural.

Queen of the Dead is an intriguing work with a 1960s/1970s cult film sensibility. Trista Robinson has an Anya Ormsby quality which well serves the film's retro conceit.

Written & directed by Justin Head.



* Best Horror Music Video: Aunt Ethel


Halloween at Aunt Ethel's is a slasher film set (as its title suggests) on Halloween night. The killer is known to the locals as Old Aunt Ethel (Gail Yost), a crazy old cat lady with crazy white hair. Except Old Aunt Ethel doesn't collect kitties. She collects and pickles body parts.

As slasher films go, it's pretty basic. You have your sex-crazed teenagers. Your blood and gore. Some skin. A large dose of black comedy. And after the last blade has cut down its last victim, a final Halloween treat: after the end credits, a promotional music video for the song "Aunt Ethel."




"Aunt Ethel" is a hip hop song, combining clips from the film with original material shot specifically for the music video. That's nice. That shows effort. Many music videos that promote a feature film lazily settle for just clips from the film.

The resulting video is lively, playful, and fun (and sexy and gory), evoking a passion for slashers with a dash of Halloween spirit. Like other winning entries, "Aunt Ethel" stands up to repeat viewing. No matter how often you've seen the music video, it's fun to watch it again.

While all the other entries in this category were submitted as music videos, ironically, "Aunt Ethel" was perhaps tacked onto the end credits as an afterthought. Nevertheless, it was the best.

Directed by Joseph Mazzaferro.



* Honorable Mention


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



* Ingenue


Sara is an aspiring young actress from Australia, come to Hollywood to become a star. An ingenue. Upon arriving, Sara pays the usual visit to Hollywood's Walk of Fame. She finds an apartment. She finds an agent. She finds rejection. She finds a ghost in her apartment.

Not just any ghost, but that of a former aspiring actress who died during Hollywood's Golden Age. An actress who never made it, but now seeks a second chance at stardom through Sara.

Ingenue has many merits. Its tale is intriguing, entertaining, and, despite tropes common to ghost or Hollywood stories, still manages to surprise. The supernatural scenes are nicely filmed with polished sound design, and offer some genuine shocks.

The story is well written. Sara is an engaging character. Because we care about her, we care about her sleuthing to unravel the mystery behind the ghost. She travels a rich character arc, during which her two goals -- a yearning for stardom and a desire to learn about the ghost -- interweave into a satisfying closure.

Actress Nell Nakkan does an excellent job portraying Sara. Early in the film, Nakkan offers a flat performance, and we think she might be a mediocre actress. But once Sara is possessed by the ghost, Nakkan's performance is extraordinary. Her transformation is remarkable, similar to Naomi Watts in Mulholland Drive. (Remember when Watts gave two different readings of the same scene, the first okay, the next outstanding?) Director Sophie Webb was smart to have Nakkan hold back in the role of "non-possessed Sara," to create a greater contrast with the "possessed Sara."

After this, Nakkan transforms herself into a third Sara. Sara the diva. She was an untalented Plain Jane when we first met her, but a nice person. Now a star, Sara exudes a controlled but fake niceness, patronizing and slightly bitchy.

Ingenue is directed by Sophie Webb. Written by Pete Carboni and Sophie Webb.




* H0us3


A group of tech-savvy friends discuss the internet over dinner. Topics range from how to crack a password, to the ethics of Anonymous, Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, self-programming artificial intelligence, and conspiracy theories. Then one man discloses that he's cracked a highly secret password, leading to the discovery of an app that can see into the future. The near future. Their future. And it is terrifying.

H0us3 is an intelligent, talky film, shot in Spain. Its verbose script tells more than it shows. The dinner table chatter is quick, perhaps because the screenwriters have so much info about internet culture and politics that they want to cram in. I kept having to pause the film to read the subtitles.




The film's weakness is its characters, who are not very likable. Cocky internet nerds, trying to one up each other with their tech skills. It's a script that might have been penned by The Lone Gunmen. Nevertheless, the actors are competent, the production values are slick.

The film's greatest strength is its intelligence. Like much great science fiction, the characters are mere vehicles to convey ideas, their personalities secondary to the topics being discussed. And those topics are weighty. Who controls information? Who should control it? What's going on behind the scenes that governments and corporations don't want you to know about?

H0us3 is smart horror/sci-fi. In some ways, it resembles Coherence, which was about a group of friends having dinner, caught in a quantum entanglement. Both films start off slow and talky, then veer into X-Files territory in the latter half.

Manolo Munguia & Sergio Martinez have written a brainy and socially relevant screenplay.



* Additional Winners


Every year we see some bad actors, some mediocre actors, and some talented actors who do a professional job. Among the latter are those few who leave an impression. Who go beyond the job and create a character that lingers in our minds. This last quality is often the crucial difference between the winners and the merely talented.

Another consideration is aesthetics. Many films are technically slick. They are nicely lit, the sound clearly recorded. But if a film's technical choices also aesthetically support its story, characters, and themes, then so much the better.


In Marcel Walz's Blind, a slasher is stalking victims in the Hollywood Hills. He fixates on Faye, a former film star who was forced to retire after botched laser eye surgeries. As the title implies, Faye is now blind.

Blind is a neo-giallo suspense thriller. It has the usual stylized production design and cinematography. The colored lights. The cat-and-mouse interplay between predators (there's more than one) and victims. And at its core, it has Sarah French in the role of Faye.

Faye is not merely a target for a slasher, but a woman struggling to accept the end of her old life, and begin a new life with new interests, new friends, and even a handicapped lover. Over the course the film, French portrays Faye as depressed, self-pitying, independent, insecure, competent, vulnerable, and courageous.

As slasher films go, Blind is not terribly bloody. It doesn't rely on shocks or gore, but on our concern for Faye. We are emotionally invested in her fate because of French. Handicapped roles are generally considered Oscar material, and French gives an Oscar worthy performance.

Sarah French wins for Best Dramatic Actress.




The Revelator is an unpleasant film. You expect a light comedy, but it slowly darkens into a depressing take on the human condition. You won't feel good having watched it, but its story -- particularly lead character John Cameron -- will linger in your memory.

John is a small time actor in a small New England town. His main gig is as a horror host on a cable TV access channel. That makes him something of a local celebrity. Not enough to pay the bills. He works at a deli to make ends meet. It's tough, because he is the sole caregiver for his ailing brother.

The Revelator is a tale of personal disintegration. Of a man filled with frustrated dreams and an inflated self-image. To escape the pressures of his petty life, he turns delusional, offering autographs to people who didn't request one, or imagining that younger women might be interested in him and that he will soon be a network star. Eventually, delusions collide with realty.

Although John Cameron never made it big, he invokes such characters as Norma Desmond and Baby Jane. Asked to perform at a high school game, John lingers on the field while everyone else is leaving, swirling his vampire cape, savoring his "acting glory." Later on, he brags about this acting job, as if he were anything other than a costumed mascot.

There are many such fine, if uncomfortable, moments in The Revelator. We remember them, and John, largely because of George MacDonald, who plays John on a fine edge. John's attempt to romantically interest a much younger co-worker is cringe-worthy, yet we pity him even as we are creeped out. A sweet guy, devoted to his sick brother, lonely, frustrated, desperate for recognition and a bit of happiness, who's also creepy, deceitful, and potentially dangerous.

George MacDonald
wins for Best Dramatic Actor.





Amy is a zealous office manager who tries to foster high morale and team spirit among the employees. Gary is the constant thorn in her side, hampering her efforts with his bad attitude. Amy endures Gary for as long as she can -- until he tries to sabotage the potluck. That's when Amy snaps.

The Potluck is a hilarious little gem. It has no padding. It never drags. It's fast paced, with a quick succession of funny jokes and one-liners. Like a classic Saturday Night Live skit, it holds up to repeat viewing.

A big reason for its success is Madeline Wager. An office potluck might not seem like a big deal, but Wager imbues Amy with a fiercely funny passion. Wager's controlled intensity conveys such a sincere zealousness that we come to share Amy's devotion to this petty office event. Her monomaniacal crusade to search out and destroy the man who would ruin her precious potluck carries the film. The Potluck is her story.

Madeline Wager wins for Best Comedic Actress.



Carl takes his job at the library very seriously. When patrons are late returning their books, he gets mad. But when they steal books ... then it's personal.

Every slasher has his motives. For Carl, it's overdue or stolen books. (He also pines for the prim and pretty lady librarian, and endeavors to eliminate his romantic rival.)

As Carl, actor Les Best conveys an exuberant mania for his job. Best's rubbery face swings from gleeful to sinister, from sour to enraged, depending on how well you treat "his" books.

Best is also talented at slapstick. He's an older actor, but it hasn't slowed his groove. Overdue opens with Carl rising out of bed and boogeying to old time rock & roll. He exhibits uninhibited joy as he dances with a broomstick, slides off the hood of his car, and even performs a decent cartwheel. That's how much he looks forward coming to work every morning. And how much he enjoys killing those who disrespect the library and its books.

Carl Best wins for Best Comedic Actor.


In Ma petite Sophie, Diana is a hitchhiker who might, or might not, be a vampire. After Julio gives her a lift, she turns up again at his house. By chance, she says. Julio's girlfriend, Sophie (who is under the care of a psychiatrist) insists otherwise. Sophie says the young Diana is actually Sophie's 100 plus year old vampire mother, come to hunt her down.

The evidence can be interpreted either way. We sympathize with Julio's dilemma after Sophie knocks out and ties up Diana. Julio wants to believe Sophie, but she does have a poor mental health history.

As Diana, Laura Garcia toys with the couple and the audience. She initially seems a friendly, flirtatious hitchhiker. We can see why the mentally disturbed Sophie might have delusions fed by jealousy. Diana is understandably distraught at being tied up. She maintains her facade and sticks to her story for a good while. Until she reveals her dark side while Julio is out of the room, eventually going full blown monster. Then she surprises us with her softer side.

Garcia keeps us guessing about Diana well into the film, and keeps revealing other sides to Diana after we think we have her figured out. As a vampire, Garcia is cold and deceitful, maternal and merciful. A complex and memorable vampire.

Laura Garcia
wins for Best Supporting Actress.


As the diabolical Professor Crowly (sic) in The Music of John Low, Bengt Westin leaves an impression. Crowly is sinister in his methodical mannerisms, hands hovering protectively over his grimoire as he scrutinizes John Low, trying to size up his adversary. Later, his eyes exude a suicidal glee over the prospect of imminent death. And hysterical joy at the sight of his baby monster.

Crowly looks like an occult scholar who is both evil and slightly bent.

He is one of 2019's most charismatic and memorable villains, and the reason Bengt Westin wins for Best Supporting Actor.





Mary awakes at night. Answers the doorbell. No one there. She is surprised to find her lover in bed. When did he come home? They make love. She awakes again and discovers the infant AntiChrist in a black draped crib in her living room. When did she give birth?

We presume it's the infant AntiChrist. Nothing is explained. Dialog is minimal. Annunciation is a scant story told in strange incidents and symbolic images. Insects, swirling liquids, a blood red ocean, dancing flames, etc., are intercut with events. Freudian images associated with sex and the subconscious. Religious images of sin and Satan.

Despite the scant story (I suspect the film is a "proof of concept"), we can fill in the blanks. We know what's going on because we've seen Rosemary's Baby.

One of many avant-garde shorts we received this year, Annunciation eschews dialog in favor of images -- beautiful and compelling -- to depict what might merely be a nightmare. This conceit is reinforced by Argento-inspired colored lights, and is also what makes those lights aesthetically appropriate. Compositions are arresting and similarly surreal, interacting nicely with the set decor (e.g., the lamps swinging to geometric precision, from no natural cause) and the symbolic images. Split screens are among the film's other cinematic bag of tricks.

That this is a nightmare is hinted by Mary, who asks her lover if he's had a nightmare. Either way, real or surreal, Annunciation is a visual delight. Had Dario Argento directed Rosemary's Baby, the result might be Annunciation.

Carlo Madoglio wins for Best Cinematography.




Saori feels trapped in her marriage. Every day, little things eat away at her soul. Cleaning up after her husband, Keisuke. Washing his undies. Listening to his boring tales from work. His loud workouts in the morning. His annoying laughter at the TV. His hideous snoring at night. It's piling up inside of Saori. Ready to explode.

Saori, Piling Up opens as a mundane domestic drama, shot in an appropriately banal fashion. But as Saori's grievances pile up, the cinematic techniques intensify to parallel her anxieties.

Sound is an active participant. Saori's emotional woes have given her tinnitus. We hear the ringing in her ears as we see Keisuke's curled lips in closeup, laboriously enunciating as he tries to be understood. We can see how Saori might find him annoying. As the film progresses, the volume grows unstable, heightening or lowering to extremes. Abstract sound effects are used toward the end, paralleling the introduction of surreal images.

Less a story than a profile of psychological disintegration (that seems to be a common theme this year), Saori, Piling Up relies heavily upon surreal visuals, distorted sounds, and aggressive editing to depict a discontented housewife's interior struggles.

Jun Koyama wins for Best Sound Design.


Saori, Piling Up is one of many avant-garde films we received this year. What begins as a straight narrative devolves into an increasingly subjective view of Saori's boorish husband and her suffocating marriage. Sound destabilizes and assaults us. Repulsive, surreal images -- all in Saori's head -- are introduced.

Editing supports this subjective perspective. Early in the film, shots are longer, creating a slow pace to reflect the story's mundane milieu. But as the story continues, the pace quickens, shots shortening as Saori's frustrations "pile up" until she boils over and finally "explodes" (so to speak).

Editing functions in a creative manner, actively working with sound and images to support the film's story, characters, and themes.

Soichi Umezawa wins for Best Editing.




The Baby Farmer isn't merely weird. It has layers of weirdness. A woman is carrying a giant larva. It's her baby. She doesn't think that a giant baby larva is all that unusual. She wants to bring it to a restaurant. She has to be told that no proper eatery would allow her to bring that thing in with her.

Who tells her this? A lady vampire. This vampire is pressuring the mother to give her larva to a "baby farmer," who turns out to be an elderly woman in white. Does this woman own a larva "farm"?

Not much is explained in The Baby Farmer, another "proof of concept" film. But this one doesn't just lack closure, it lacks a setup. It's a piece of free floating weirdness. Not unlike some of David Lynch's short works. Or certain scenes from some of Lynch's longer works.

The Baby Farmer has other Lynchian aspects. Its soundtrack features Jerkcurb's "Walking in the Air," which sounds like something Lynch would select. Then there is the production design. The film appears to be set in the 1940s -- a favorite Lynchian period. The props, costumes, and set decor, create an ambiance of surreal, dislocated weirdness. They not only suggest an era, they establish a mood.

James Saxe wins for Best Production Design.


A truck driver is told that workers at a construction site have found a "strange" mound of dirt. It's his job to haul it away. The driver's son has foreboding visions about the mound -- that it contains something not of this world -- but who would believe him?

With the mound securely (they think) locked in the back of the truck, father and son drive off.

Filmed in Malaysia, Cargo appears to be a "proof of concept" short film. It feels that the real story begins after the film ends. The monster emerges from the mound and kills some people, whereupon father and son hurry off to save their skins. Leaving the monster behind.

And now the real killing starts, we think.

Although Cargo isn't too original on story or style, its monster is impressive. A dark, hulking, gangly creature that camouflages itself within the rocky dirt mound, and emerges from hiding at opportune moments. We won't show it to you. That would spoil the surprise.

But it's worthy enough to win Jorik Dozy the Best Visual Effects award.


Every year we receive some films with gory make-up effects. Some are well crafted. Some even show a bit of originality. But the make-up effects in Saori, Piling Up are wildly original.

The film doesn't use make-up effects in the normal manner. Characters suffer no gory injuries, and there is no actual monster. Rather, make-up effects are used in a concrete yet surreal manner to depict Saori's inner rage. She buries bloody, gelatinous lumps embedded with kitchen utensils and other domestic icons. Her dog excretes Keisuke's bloody, rubbery head. Saori wields ... well, some of it is hard to describe.

The make-up effects in Saori, Piling Up are as slickly crafted as those in any film we saw this year. They are more original. And they are not arbitrary. Not the usual scary monster. Rather, they are drawn organically from, and reinforce, the film's story, characters, and themes.

Natsumi Kameyama, Keiko Nakanishi & Masato Kato win for Best Make-Up Effects.


This seems like an easy choice, but that doesn't make it any less appropriate. As its title implies, music is a key component to The Music of John Low. It informs the character of Low, a violinist turned private eye. His embrace, abandonment, and return to the violin form part of his character arc, paralleling his relationship to the outside world.

Music also does much to set the mood. Rather than directly amplifying events on screen (dark, dramatic tones during horrific events), the soundtrack opts for contrasts. Brutal incidents are accompanied by an uplifting pastoral lyricism. It's not an entirely original conceit (see the use of classical music in Hardware). But it works.

This is an award for Best Music Soundtrack, not for Best Music. How the music relates to, and aesthetically supports, events on screen is a key factor in deciding the winner. Yes, John Low's violin music is beautiful. But more importantly, it aesthetically supports the story, characters, emotional sensibility, and themes.

Hakan Liden & Ronny Rasmusson win for Best Music Soundtrack.

* The Final Tally


* Best Horror Feature Film .......................... E.B. Hughes (Exit 0)

* Best Horror Documentary ........................... Kyle J. Macias (The Hat Man)

* Best Dramatic Horror Short Film .............. Marko Kattilakoski (The Music of John Low)

* Best Comedic Horror Short Film ............... James Atkins (The Witch Hunters Are Coming)

* Best Animated Horror Short Film .............. Katherine Lindhorst (Paranoia)

* Best Avant-Garde Horror Short Film ........ Justin Head (Queen of the Dead)

* Best Horror Music Video .......................... Joseph Mazzaferro (Aunt Ethel)

* Best Dramatic Actress .............................. Sarah French (Blind)

* Best Dramatic Actor .................................. George MacDonald (The Revelator)

* Best Comedic Actress .............................. Madeline Wager (The Potluck)

* Best Comedic Actor .................................. Les Best (Overdue)

* Best Supporting Actress ........................... Laura Garcia (Ma petite Sophie)

* Best Supporting Actor ............................... Bengt Westin (The Music of John Low)

* Best Cinematography ............................... Carlo Madoglio (Annunciation)

* Best Sound Design ................................... Jun Koyama (Saori, Piling Up)

* Best Editing ............................................... Soichi Umezawa (Saori, Piling Up)

* Best Production Design ............................ James Saxe (The Baby Farmer)

* Best Visual Effects .................................... Jorik Dozy (Cargo)

* Best Make-Up Effects ............................... Natsumi Kameyama, Keiko Nakanishi & Masato Kato (Saori, Piling Up)

* Best Music Soundtrack ............................. Hakan Liden & Ronny Rasmusson (The Music of John Low)

* Honorable Mention .................................... Sophie Webb & Pete Carboni (Ingenue)

* Honorable Mention .................................... Manolo Munguia & Sergio Martinez (H0us3)

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