The New York City Horror Film Festival takes places from November 14 – 17 at the Tribeca Cinemas in New York City. The festival is divided into 13 programs with each program containing two short films and one feature-length production. For more information, please visit http://nychorrorfest.com/.
Directed by: Angus Swantee
Written by: Craig Gunn, Angus Swantee
Starring: Francine Deschepper, Craig Gunn, Kevin Kincaid
Walk into any office in the world and you will likely find at least one person who does not enjoy their job. So why do we think killers are any different? One of the common themes in horror films is that people murder because they have to, because it provides them with something they need to get by, but anyone can tell you that doing something because it is necessary isn’t the same thing as doing something because you enjoy it. When Greg (Craig Gunn) wakes up to find himself trapped in a torture dungeon in a case of mistaken identity, he sees himself with an opportunity. You see, the torturer doesn’t seem to be particularly enthusiastic about his job, and Greg is, after all, a guidance counselor.
Torturous breathes a bit of new life into the torture porn subgenre by introducing the elements of a workplace comedy. The nameless torturer (Kevin Kincaid) is deeply unhappy in his work. Everyone in his family is a registered nurse, and although he makes his living impaling people with his electric drill – he is, after all, the “drill guy” – he sees an opportunity to pursue his dreams with Greg’s help. Watching people have a civilized conversation in the bowels of a slaughterhouse is never not going to be funny, and Gunn and Swantee keep the short to a very brisk six minutes. They quickly establish the joke, enjoy a few genuine laughs at the interaction between Greg and the torturer, and top it off with a nice little sight gag. Imagine Hostel with a bit of a midlife crisis and you’ll know what to expect. Horror is atmosphere, comedy is pacing – Torturous has both. A personal favorite.
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Directed by: Richard Marra
A short film detailing the the macabre life of a mob doctor. He is haunted by the death of a small child – a death that cost him his license – and continues his practice the only way he can, by patching up wounded gangsters who are dropped off at his door. The film hinges on the concept; there is very little dialogue and no real flashbacks to what the doctor has done before. However, The Doctor plays like a high school film, mashing together images of the bloody corpses of gangsters with the doctor suffering through a mental breakdown.
Is it the goal of a genre film critic to provide honest feedback on subpar efforts or to promote independent voices in horror? In a conversation with another independent filmmaker during a break, he discussed his feelings on working within the genre. He was of the opinion that there is a bare minimum of technical proficiency that is required of all filmmakers, and once you get past that level, then the real process of putting something interesting together can begin. This should be nothing new to filmmakers, but it clearly illustrates the problem with The Doctor. Since it fails to cross that threshold it is difficult to find much else to say.
Directed by: Scott Schirmer
Written by: Todd Rigney, Scott Schirmer
Starring: Gavin Brown, Ethan Philbeck, Phyllis Munro
Found begins with Marty, a young man from a quiet suburban family, carefully removing a head from a bowling ball bag. The bag belongs to his brother; Marty’s voice explains to us that he found the first head months ago and that he has been checking the bag ever since, finding many different heads in the bag. From here, Found explores Marty’s childhood – his love of horror films, his tenuous connection to his brother, and his strained relationship with the other kids at school. How he chooses to deal with the secrets he keeps – and how these secrets eventually come to light – explores both the nature of childhood and the repulsion (and attraction) of a horror story come to life.
Where Found works best is as a horror genre coming-of-age story. Horror films are Marty’s connection to the people around him. Marty’s father views his obsession with horror films as something typical of a young boy and uses the local movie theater as a way to stay connected to his son. Steve mostly ignores Marty’s presence in the house but lets him borrow VHS tapes from his collection, providing the two brothers with an area of common ground that overcomes Steve’s turbulent adolescence. The film also implies that Marty’s father used to share the same love of horror films with Steve when he was younger, suggesting that all parties are attempting to correct past mistakes in how they approach Marty’s obsession.
The film also walks a fine line with the tone, choosing to stay rooted to Marty’s perspective throughout rather than provide us with first-hand experience with Steve’s darker side. The key sequence in the film is when Marty watches Headless, a fictitious horror film that seems to be the inspiration for his brother’s murders. As Marty watches the tape he begins to picture Steve performing the same actions; the audience is able to view the low-budget VHS tape as a surrogate for the cruelty that Steve has undertaken. This scene is absolutely crucial to the film. It allows the audience to fully realize Steve’s brutality without compromising Marty’s childhood perspective. What Gavin Brown does with Marty is nothing short of staggering. He is required to play Marty as both drawn towards graphic violence while still maintaining the innocence of childhood. Marty knows that his brother has done bad things but it is the viewing of Headless that makes the violence in Steve’s life tangible. The Headless viewing begins the unraveling of Marty’s family as a sacred object to him – like every scene in the film, Brown is able to handle the mature material with poise beyond his years.
While Found is near flawless in its development of Marty and his family, the third act requires that there be consequences for the secrets that Marty keeps, and here is where the film struggles. It is a testament to the skill of the filmmakers that the explicit material is what feels the most forced. The explanation that Steve provides Marty for his actions seems unnecessary. Though we recognize it as a rationalization, an excuse for the darker desires that drive Steve’s behavior, giving any voice to Steve’s demons feels contrary to the balance that Found has struck. And when Marty is called upon to choose between his parents and his brother, as we know he must do, the film abandons its carefully-constructed ambiance to give us the explicit madness that drives Steve. It may be the point of this sequence to have both Marty and the audience realize that we have been viewing Steve through the eyes of a younger brother, worshiping his role in Marty’s life even as we downplay his actions. However, shattering Marty’s perception of his brother also serves to damage the the balance of the film. What serves as a necessary conclusion to the film may not be the one it deserves.
Still, even with my issues regarding the ending, I must admit that Found is an extremely intelligent horror film. Though many films set in adolescence incorporate aspects of horror by having their characters overcome childhood fears, the balance between the brutality of Steve and the innocence of Marty is written and executed with near-impossible poise. This is a film that confronts the challenges of adapting the coming-of-age film to the horror genre head on and with absolute surety. It certainly earned the ‘Best Feature’ prize awarded by the organizers of the New York City Horror Film Festival on the closing night of the festival.