Radio personality Jay of Horror Happenings Show, brought together a film festival to sponsor the Washington Theater funding efforts, which fell into disrepair and suffered the cruel fate of society’s ignorance to the small movie house, hence presented 12 hours horror movies which commenced on August 23, 2014. The event itself was small, to state the least, and favorite by local filmmakers, from NJ, NY and PA, as the location for the Theater finds residing in the most popular town name in New Jersey Washington (sadly a name of four other towns in the state). However, a solid group of fans made their appearance, and the crowd grew a bit over the day though, not to a ground swelled.
Nevertheless, the trip to the event, proved an interesting ride for this horror journalist an 80-mile journey that seamlessly went by until one’s veer off the interstate and onto what appeared roads and surroundings from Wrong Turn films and Friday the 13th series. The roads and environment added to the darkness and mysterious aspect, mixed with heavy rains, wind, all elements found in a horror movie, no other way for one to venture to a festival.
The theater outside, looks like many that have dotted across America at some point in the cinematic history, though a bit on the weary side, needing both love and money for a rebound. The location, ideal for small town USA, the dying breed of one or two screen theaters, faces the same dilemma as the drive-in theaters, the love and passion from the patrons. The inside portion of theater, lives up to the name of a horror show, there’s no denying the theater needs funding, and help from patrons, lovers of small theaters and fans in general, to restore the greatness of location. Years of forgotten absent maintenance left remains scattered within, as plastered on the walls cracked, and missing, and large sections of the ceiling missing due to leaks, and water dripping into black trash bagged lined cans, filtering the rain during the show. Ghosts would find the insides frightening to haunt, and a tad drafty to stay at, though had the confines for the modest horror filmmakers to set up shop, namely Ryan Scott Weber hot off his tour of film festivals and conventions for his film Witches Blood, his film Zombie Incorporated made a surprise showing. Filmmakers dotted the Q&A sessions including Jack Thomas Smith director of Infliction.
The films ranged from short to features, and grew from modest and comedic to gruesome and wretched by the close the night, with only slight issues occurring, and those overlooked by the audience and noting the first time of the film festival. Many of the films made their appearances at other film festivals nationwide, and were commonplace by the fans, and Jay and his partner in mayhem Ghost, thought perfect blend, bringing noted films together rather than unknowns.
The standout film in the first segment, a splatter comedy horror Fist of Jesus (2012), from Spain, while foreign horror films are tough draw at a festival, the subtitles meant little to hilarious and insane actions on the screen. The directors, Adrian Cardona and David Munoz, brought a gem of action all in praise of Jesus, a film available on YouTube, clocking just under 15-minutes, imagine Jesus resurrecting Lazarus only to return as a Zombie, and begin the gruesome blood shedding gore delighting wonderment that horror fans desire! The great special effects, and zombies including cowboys, it doesn’t matter that it doesn’t make sense the chaos is beneficial. As for the comedy, it flows and follows each bucket of blood, as Jesus (Marc Velasco) and Judas (Noe Blancafort) battle together in conquering the zombie plague, with the perfect exchange of dialogue and then usage of fish as weapons. This film highlighted talents and freshness in the zombie genre, and now serves an inspiration for the short production to reach the promise land of features.
The first feature of the event, Nailbiter (2013), a creature-feature from director Patrick Rea, stretches itself quickly along with the meager budget, which makes films of nonhuman monsters increasing difficult to pull off, without becoming or looking corny. Rea adds tense and eerie moments, with elements of lurking in the shadows and quick blurs to mask both creatures and bring more suspense, and create both fear and excitement, but with no gore. Although, the film presents one type of creature at the core of film, another exists in the form of mother, Janet Maguire played by Erin McGrane, of three daughters, and wife to a returning soldier, who is her own worst monster, an alcoholic, who ignores dangers and warnings by venturing out during tornado wards to greet her husband. Ben Jeffrey plays Deputy Carr, conveying a believable character, caring for those in need, and does a marvelous job until the film’s cast chews him out and drags him off set. Joicie Appell’s character Mrs. Shurman steals the show as a truly creepy-old-lady that has very peculiar views and habits, which reinforce the horror rules. Rea’s film misses on a few beats, but this b-grade horror film, knows itself and works to the limit of the resources to give a quality feature, that the ChillerTV channel recently showed. I recalled seeing Rea’s creation in 2012 at the Terror Film Festival, in Philadelphia, PA, the picture presentation serve the film better in the theater atmosphere rather a room at the Ethnical Society Building.
Meanwhile outside the venue, the typical horror audience arrived in droves, wearing the black clothing, of t-shirts of with horror films and metal bands on them, and yet one standout strolled amongst them – Father Evil. This man, if that is the correct term for this character, made his way through the crowd, scaring the uninformed and unaware, blessing each them in fantastic method.
Speaking of Rea, another film of his captured the audience’s attention with Counter Parts (2014), starring the hauntingly Somyia Finley in his short film, deep in moral anguish and reminiscent of a Night Gallery episode where fate deals cards that seem promising until one’s realize the house always wins. One cannot reveal much about the film without being a spoiler, needless to state, a fine production for one to enjoy.
As the day progressed, another outstanding feature graced the screen The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh (2012) the most recent horror film from Rodrigo Gudino who served as both director and writer of this creation. The award-winning film served an excellent formula for the fans, a moving tale involving mystery and thriller, and a mixture of horror for the cult of spirits to enthrall in the suspense. Aaron Poole portrays antique collector who inherits is mother’s (Vanessa Redgrave) home and contents which contains a shrine to a creepy cult and with each item possessing its own mysterious spirit. Rodrigo presents an interesting dynamic, of psychological torment and gothic religious resurrection into one’s conscience and morals effecting ghostly apparitions. Overall, the film presents a unique haunting tale of terror for the audience to savor in a darkened theater surrounded by eerie sounds.
Then a very short and different type of zombie story from writer and director Thomas Ryan entitled Day 9 (2013) that included music from the hard rock indie band Vlad the Inhaler, about an compelling story of man alone, suffering from losing his soul mate nine days ago. Skip Shea, the director of Ave Maria (2013) brought forth, a bizarre horror religious tale that has no words spoken in the seven-minute production rather a visual visceral display of deeper horrors. A man, strapped naked to a chair, judge by a spirit, perhaps a reflection of innocence, of his crimes and perversions, before he undergoes ancient Catholic ritual of exposing his sickness. Shea’s film proves worthy of inclusion, and noted by Jay that the film aired in Rome, near the Vatican, the film and exorcise of his own torture art and life a survivor of clergy sexual abuse.
As like many of other festivals, this one was no exception but to show Jack Thomas Smith’s Infliction (2013) based on true events of a pending case, wherein the judicial system of family court return two abuse boys, back to their parents, who consequential move and indulge in more sick vicious abuse. The storyline provides deep complexities occurring in the mindset of tortured killers, John and Kenny Stiles (Jason Mac and Elliott Armstrong) later reuniting with their sister Andrea (Ana Shaw) and discover more about their family dynamics, which would make Dr. Phil, cringe. Needless, one cannot expose much about the layered plot, except that the video cameras play a massive understanding of them, the methods and horrors of honoring thy mother and father.
As the night progressed and headed into the final stretch of depravity, assisted by Billy Pon, most recently known for is brutal film Circus of the Dead, staring diverse Bill Oberst Jr., had Doll Boy (2010) presented in all gory glory. This film proceeded Pon masterpiece by 4 years, and yet it still stars the same actor for the character Doll Boy, Sergio Gracida, a disturbing figure who seems to enjoy massacring groups in fun manner, that leaves little to imagination. Then without missing a beat A Dark Place Inside, a tale of a serial killer, longing for the best female companion, and yet having immense social difficult expressing himself to the opposite sex. His best option, take something from encounter to make himself feel temporarily better, in the end does it work that is for the viewer to find out.
Upon leaving the festival and theater, I recalled as did many of those in attendance the lost theaters of small towns, and fading memory for many people over 30 years of age, and unknown mystery of the youth. I personally recalled the Harwan Theater in Mount Ephraim, NJ where Abbott and Costello performed in vaudeville days performed and later Exhumed Films displayed reels of horror films, and other patron noted the Century Theater in Audubon, NJ. These two theaters died long ago, and occupied the space with a Walgreens and out-of-business Eckerd’s, respectively, and they fall along the wayside of drive-in theaters. Theaters like those and Washington, are a part of the cinematic landscape and history, only a few left in America, many struggle to remain such as Historic Everett Theater, Washington state, where Ghostlight (2013), and Colonial Theater in Phoenixville, PA most noted for The Blob (1958), may face extinction with the patrons of cinema paying tributes to them.
Horror Happens Film Festival and The Washington Theater finished the 12-hour marathon of twisted tales of horror in proud fashion and set owner Marco Matteo with a solid springboard to hold more festivals and create his crowd-funding platform on Go Fund Me’s website. While the goals of both seemed lofty Jay showed what can happen with hard work, and dedicated fans, now time comes to theater to play their cards, the success or failure lies in the darkness of the unknown, the door of fate beckons one to open it and step through, keep this landmark open for everyone.