Horror is a fickle genre. Make a movie too serious, it can end up unintentionally funny. Try and make an outrageous horror-comedy hybrid, it can easily be not funny at all. But the best horror movies are the ones that subvert and warp reality, showing us that the horrors of everyday life can always be worse; horror films with low budgets either tend to stick within the constraints of the genre, or try and reinvent it. Neither is easy to do. Now in its 13th year, the Spooky Movie International Horror Film Festival continues to bring some of the most buzzed about new movies in the horror genre to the D.C. area. Each year is a mixed bag‚ÄĒsometimes undiscovered gems premiere to uproarious praise, other years, duds. This year‚Äôs festival fits right in that tradition. It opens with a screening of Don Coscarelli‚Äôs 1979 classic Phantasm and also features the Nicolas Cage-starring film Mandy, which we previously reviewed and loved. Of the select films we reviewed, some were better than others, but fortunately none of them made us want to gouge our eyes out.
Directed by Patrick von Barkenberg
The best horror films are thematically subversive. They get at some uncomfortable truth about human nature, whether it‚Äôs our deepest fears or worst impulses. Blood Paradise, a new horror film from Sweden, includes transgressive imagery without much thought behind it. Director Patrick von Barkenberg focuses on Robin (AndreŐĀa Winter), a bestselling crime novelist who goes to the Swedish countryside for her latest inspiration. She meets some backward country folk, including her driver Hans Bubi (Christer Cavallius). Most of the film is a ‚Äúfish out of water‚ÄĚ premise, with Robin confronting and challenging increasingly bizarre, violent locals. It‚Äôs also an erotically tinged horror film: Robin is frequently nude for no reason other than her good looks. There is a murderer among these eccentrics, and the reveal of Blood Paradise is a complete rip-off of Hitchcock‚Äôs Psycho, right down to the costumes. The cumulative effect is a horror film made by hobbyists who mainly wanted to have fun, so any concerns over quality were secondary. (AZ)
Friday, Oct. 5 at 7:15 p.m. at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center.
The Field Guide to Evil
Directed by Ashim Ahluwalia, Can Evrenol, Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz, Katrin Geb- be, Calvin Reeder, Agnieszka Smoczynska, Peter Strickland, and Yannis Veslemes
What is striking about The Field Guide to Evil, the new collection of horror shorts from all over the world, is how they are similar. That is not a bad thing: While each film is from a separate country, the similarities highlight what folklore shares across cultures. Most of them involve monsters who attack vulnerable people, whether they are women, children, or the impoverished. There is also a moral dimension to the creatures, like the Turkish ‚Äúchildbirth monster‚ÄĚ that preys on an exhausted new mother at her wit‚Äôs end. But like all anthology horror films, some entries are stronger than others. The best unfold wordlessly, like a fairy tale in the classic Grimm tradition. Aside from the Turkish one, the clear highlight is from Hungary. It was directed by Peter Strickland, who has some ad- oration from horror fans after directing Berberian Sound Studio and The Duke of Burgundy. His segment is called The Cobbler‚Äôs Lot, and it draws from surrealist silent traditions to create something truly unnerving. None of these shorts overstay their welcome, but since Strickland‚Äôs is last, it effectively ends up being worth the price of admission. (AZ)
Saturday, Oct. 6 at 7:15 p.m. at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center.
Lords of Chaos
Directed by Jonus AŐäkerlund
True metalheads know: The origin story of how the Norwegian black metal scene came to be is, well, pretty fucked up. Bands like Immortal and Mayhem may now be international rock stars, touring the world over in signature black-and-white demonic face paint, but in the late ‚Äô80s and early ‚Äô90s, the key players who forged Nor-way‚Äôs notorious black metal scene committed acts of arson and murder all in the name of Satan. There‚Äôve been numerous documentaries, books, and podcast that tell the story, but director Jonas AŐäkerlund‚Äôs Lords of Chaos is the first biopic to dramatize the formation of the legendary band Mayhem and the scene it spawned. But for a ripped-from-the-headlines story that begins with a horrific suicide and ends with a similarly horrifying murder, AŐäkerlund‚Äôs film is unfortunately kind of a snooze. Rory Culkin shines as Euronymous, Mayhem‚Äôs founding guitarist and the self-appointed creator/leader of ‚ÄúTrue Norwegian Black Metal,‚ÄĚ but Emory Cohen steals the show as Varg, the black metal prodigy whose harsh ideology and beliefs push Euronymous and his acolytes to extreme measures. Lords of Chaos is well acted and worth watching for anyone with a passing interest in the source material, but AŐäkerlund‚Äôs subtle direction fails to conjure much tension or sense of dread‚ÄĒsomething sorely needed to tell this story. (MC)
Saturday, Oct. 6 at 9:45 p.m. at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center.
Lost In Apocalypse
Directed by Sky Wang
Between The Walking Dead and its many spinoffs, the last thing we need is another zombie apocalypse story. There is simply nothing new to tell with this framework, and yet Lost In Apocalypse persists as if The Walking Dead, Shaun of the Dead, and The Last of Us never happened. It focuses on a zombie outbreak in China, where the usual mix of jerks, oddballs, and heroes fight their way through the horde. This film includes some melodrama, like the scene where the young girl must abandon her zombie parents, or one too many scenes where someone sacrifices themselves for the greater good. If you see this film, you will probably keep hoping for some fresh twist on the material. Instead, the filmmakers always make the easy choice, and skip on the gore while they‚Äôre at it. No zombie story can be interesting for too long, so it is common to root for the humans to lose. In Lost In Apocalypse, you‚Äôll be wishing for a complete zombie victory within minutes. (AZ)
Sunday, Oct. 7 at 2:45 p.m. at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center.
Directed by Austin Vesely
On paper, Slice has many things going for it: A stellar cast marked by the acting debut of Chance the Rapper; distribution from the prestigious indie distributor A24, and a wild premise that involves werewolves, ghosts, and a pizza place. So it‚Äôs a bit disappointing that director Austin Vesely‚Äôs highly anticipated horror-comedy isn‚Äôt a better film than it is. Slice takes place in an alternate universe, where the living and the dead co-mingle in a kind of weird ‚Äúseparate but equal‚ÄĚ existence. In the city of Kingfisher, 40,000 ghosts reside in a part of town called Ghost Town. One night, a pizza delivery boy is murdered while making a delivery in Ghost Town. Naturally, the living blame the dead and the fragile peaceful balance of the town hangs on a thread. Astrid (Zazie Beetz), another pizza delivery person, suspects the true culprit is a werewolf, and goes on the hunt for justice. Slice is at its best when it goes full schlock and B-movie lunacy, which is clearly Vesely‚Äôs point. But halfway through, the film gets bogged down with a needlessly complex plot, which requires viewers to think more than they should for a schlocky B-movie. Still, it features Chance doing his best Michael Jackson-as-a-werewolf-in-Thriller, so it‚Äôs worth it for that, at the very least. (MC)
Sunday, Oct. 7 at 9:20 p.m. at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center.¬†