The Terror Film Festival: Stalked and Staked – By Baron Craze

The Terror Film Festival slithered into the Ethnical Society Building for its eighth season in 2013 with their group of monsters, headed by Princess Horror and her loyal henchman Fel Angel, who consequently returned this season recovered from his cursed spelled from 2012, along with Graceland and Jonathan, bringing a true professional show to the masses. Alas, the great event that started in 2006 with excitement seemed less profound, and more with cobwebs abound, as other festivals around the nation adopted a convention theme, Terror Film Festival remained above that arena, and focused on the films, filmmakers, and the fans. The location, filled with a gothic sense, seemed still inviting, however lack the allure of previous glorified years, here again TFF remain, distance of the commonplace movie theater, presenting the screen and stage for the real stars of film.  

As was accustomed in previous years, the festival reigned supremely for three days, as the only horror event in the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, aside from the haunted attracted that accompanied the Halloween season, with such sinister delights of Eastern State Penitentiary. Nevertheless, the year proved slightly harder, as the stage production Evil Dead the Musical stormed into the Prince Theater, stole some the power from TFF, perhaps enhanced by the influence of the Necronomicon. However, TFF used social media and gave a gallant performance with 28 short films and 3 features.

October 17, 2013 – Thumping Shorts Segment

Normally, in the past the festival contained one film as the traditional short to kick-off each segment, sadly this time, the festival did away with that aspect, a crowd favorite, instead a trailer of the past years features and sounds to the stage for the film. The standout film of the segment, Maid of Horror, a gory tale from Australia, an always reliable country for delivering promising films to horror fans, and once again no letdown for the gore-hounds. This delightful short came from the talent hands of Caitlin Koller, who proves with a little money, her magnificent skills of writing, along with Lachlan Smith and directing one can take a woman’s (in general) most beloved day and turn it into a sickening bloodbath. Stacie Mason, provides true conviction to her character Emma, and balances a black humor with rational murderous rage, lashing and slashing to prove her point. The moral of this tale, respect your maid of horror, or the result might turn deadly.

Thrilling Shorts Segment

Returning sci-fi champion John T. Fisher creator, writer and director of Fallout Chronicles, Chapter 2, brought forth another chapter of the post-apocalyptic world of mutants and scavengers fighting each other for survival of the human race, even though bleak, the greed factor still excels forward for more of nothingness. John, took home the honors for the best science fiction short film, for the second year in row, one knows to expect great things, perhaps even a return to the classic sci-fi of yesteryear where CGI special effects did not rule the day, rather the storytelling-excelled progress forward to the enjoyment of the audience.

Thirsty Shorts Segment

It is herein that the festival returned to true form with an outstanding block of movies, with 4 of them achieving the platform of stellar qualities, ranging from a quaint tale of warning concerning jack-o-lanterns to specters roaming for release and one crazed neighborhood menace. First, upon the screen Grasshopper, from director team Ryan Roy and Michael Usry, bring a zany story of a neighborhood gone crazy with new comer  Alan (Jason Thompson) showing his Second Amendment support, ranting of giant insects bursting on the screen in more ways than one creating action and comedy all in 15-minutes. Christine Elise, (no stranger to the horror genre, with several credits such as Body Snatchers (1993)) delivers a solid performance as the character Jill, overwhelming alarmed by Alan’s actions and menacing nature.  This production brings a tight and forward moving script well worth the time to enjoy the film. Then throttling the audience, Girl at the Door, to search their past deeds and replaying incidents that have dire situations, director and writer Colin Campbell, brings what he describes as “Groundhog Day meets Fatal Attraction” head-on for a short entertaining thriller. The tale proves a smooth production, with the right touches of editing, and more psychological impact, rather than a gory episode. Both Jeffrey Vincent Parise and Kristen Renton had wonderful chemistry and able to switch the roles of prey and predator with ease, sometimes it is noticeable when a dominant needs to adjust to the submissive role, though with nightmarish imagines the adjustment came across to the audience with stellar quality. An interesting spiritual horror film, from the thought-provoking director Chris Peters, that lean more to a positive uplifting piece rather than dwelling on the negative outcomes of losing an entire family, that provided much buzz in the audience about the piece of cinema. The premise of the storyline uses a bit of Field of Dreams conjuring spirit, with the phrase “if you build it, he will come” and hence the same happens to a mother. A widow, and suffering from losing her child too, staring the bleakness of despair and the darkness of solitude anguishing in pain from memories, all clearly express by Kristina Lynn Bell as Mary.  Needless to state, most individuals who hold some religious views, even philosophical views note the remembrance of loss of friends and family wish to have one more minute with them, and think of some sort of reunited whether in fantasies and metaphysical plain of life, this film gives that spooky element for one to explore. The last film of this segment a scant production from director duo Bryan Norton and Antonio Padovan, and producer Joe Zaso (who stars in the highly acclaimed and award-winning Bart Mastronardi’s Tales of Poe (2014)), yet highly entertaining film which warrants a warning to  jack-o-lantern carvers. Halloween storylines contain an unwritten rule that they must compete against John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) especially when dealing a babysitter, however films time and again, take on the challenge and successfully defend against the comparison, in the short film the task becomes increasingly more difficult however few do beat the odds. The most famous and noteworthy An Evening with My Comatose Mother and now, Jack Attack enters into the ring to claim victory, all in 8-minutes. Bryan’s tale involves Elizabeth (known to horror fans for her performance in V/H/S) caring for a bratty Jack who’s in her care, which asks the most ridiculous questions do pumpkins feel pain when carving them. Then again, there no such things as silly questions, especially in horror films, and soon audience finds out the truth about the new menace attack and seeking vengeance on the Halloween night, in disgusting fashioned.

The Thirty Short segment, successfully showed a wonderful kick-off to the festival, though a light crowd remained a constant as of previous years; however, the quality of talent rose on the screen for the delight of many. Sadly, a change of format lacked a feature film as was the ritual of the previous seven years, but to advance things must change as to avoid a stale style setting into the reigning festival.  

The filmmakers gathered for a simple meeting of the minds, sharing of talents at a neighborhood bar, called Oh Sheas, the first night, a subdued feeling, as each tries to find their footing and discover new avenues while having fun. The environment at the party event appeared no different from any other film festival, great creative individuals awaiting the award show, to claim a coveted claw award and more notoriety.

October 18, 2013 – Fractured Shorts Segment

Veronica Kegel-Giglio’s Tea Time stood alone as the eerily tale which graced the open of a new day at TFF, and in addition showed some of the most wonderful talents that climbed through the ranks of the festival from one-time volunteers to now filmmakers. Veronica started as a volunteer several years ago working the front welcoming station, and penning her horror novels, and slowly progress to winning awards for screenplays, and the film feature Gabriel Brandis, who started with production and set creation, and progress to acting status, and also winning awards. This all shows the aspiring that no one knows where their break will come; therefore, every avenue and alley may lead them to stardom. Gabriel, stoic demeanor of the character Father, shows the regal mannerism of forgotten era, assisted by the casting of Kystle Ann Griffin and Holly Zuelle, both who gave very fine performances all under the guidance the maestros Norman Macera and David Von Roehm . Tea Time, brings together a simple story filled with a Victorian-age ghostly tale, about anger, rage, and hatred of the living, including an unexpected unwelcomed conclusion for all gathered for a spot of tea.

Frightening Shorts Segment

Killer Kart leads of the insanity of the night, with a 15-minute film, that truly has the full suspension of disbelief in effect early on and yet maintains an imaginative and quite comical series of issues occurring each with a higher degree of laughter. The artwork of the movie poster, truly gives away what the film entails, but this ridiculous production, doesn’t care, and sometimes that works the best for all parties concern, all that shows – a metal shopping cart covered in blood. Writer and director James Feeney brings together tension, comedy and some teasing moments of gore, as he delicately handles the hidden silent disgusts that shopping carts have for the human race. He factor the reckless mistreatment, of inflicting unwarranted abusive damage into and unto them in manners filled with poor cleansed hands, the story of this rage needed to find itself upon the screen. The cast does a believable performance in a fast pace unrelenting style, with Hallows Point (2007) Ray Bouchard, and Christine Alicia Rodriguez, working to protect each other, the human race and stopping the menace from spreading, but the question remains will their two legs outrun four wheels or has the battle just begun. The next film in this block, that garnish both attention and awards, comes from a festival regular, Kevin Corcoran with his movie, Kingdom of Shadows, for moment it feels like Popcorn and Cut however, Kevin maintains a mystery rather straight horror.  The storyline wraps around Garrett, a film researcher who gains possession of a rare lost silent film with the suicide of a star of Ionna Thorpe (Varvara Kountouzi) from here stirs his obsession. The mystery comes from the repeated watching that absorbs Garrett (Kevin Resnick) into the film and correction in the negatives to prevent suicide or murder, an interesting concept of fantasy of films and the hold over everyone’s imagination, to grace the silver screen.

Mortal Remains highlighted the Friday night, in gory wicked delightful entertainment for urban legend fans as well those of the mysteries of film lore, and thanks to the infamous and legendary, in some manners cult status of filmmaker Karl Atticus. Karl Atticus, might be real or imaginary, his lifestyle draws comparisons to Jim Jones to Charles Manson, his intention for making truly gore-filled works that in rumors insist he used real corpses and perhaps dealt in snuff films, though most of it find itself in a void of conjecture and yet reveals elements of slivers of truth in the film. The film title, plays off of supposedly known film of Karl, that played at a theater one night, but resulted in murders and destruction of the theater, the film and ultimately led to the supposedly suicide of Karl. The questions exist in the underground film network, whether he ever existed, the film existence found muddled in the recesses of many horror fans mixed between fantasy and reality. Christian Stavrakis and Mark Ricche bring this creation to life with help from Eduardo Sanchez (co-director of The Blair Witch Project) who mentions him in the documentary-thriller, and yet how cinema has omitted him so often, leading him as a either a ghost or figment of imagination and a collection of multiple people into one centralized character.  This creation, brings together many elements such as overall creepiness and then adds a homemade style with some hokey, yet playful campy styles, never foreshadowing too much, except when showing the intersection of ciphers and satanic religious aspects.

October 19, 2013 – Splatter Shorts Segment

Saturday brings a heartbreaking element into the day, slow but steady timer to the end of the festival, all the time, effort, discussion, yelling, disagreements seem vastly forgotten, all that remains are the final hours of smiles, laughter and enjoyment. Nevertheless everyone takes their places, the stage set, lighting ready, music cued, as previous segments Princess Horror graces the stage welcoming audience informing of them of the layout of the day, though on Saturday the hit moderate and steady flow of foot traffic. The two films that really grabbed the attention of the audience from Dust Jacket and Five Miles Straight Ahead, delivering compelling storylines, and fine performance from the cast. Kenneth Miller, director and writer, of Dust Jacket, presented a well-dined almost 80s throwback, classic design, that filled the plate of a thriller creation than horror, but fret not, elements of gore slice themselves into the film, and still moves stealthy adding layers of suspense. Hitchcock student Kenneth delivers a solid piece of filmmaking, and a solid cast assisted by Anne Gentry smoothly progressing through with measure pace, never forcing the scene, and rather allowing it to turn like pages in a book. King Jeff delivers a bit historical-horror with his film Five Miles Straight Ahead, a tale of four African-American soldiers sent on a mission behind enemy lines by five miles, all to result in unimaginable horrors, far greater than any German army or Nazi SS commanders. The short movie, presents the festival with a Twilight Zone disguise, hiding the real monsters until them final moments, and knowing one’s history especially of this era, the evidence presents itself clearly.

The first feature of the night, and later noted award winning film from director Dave Campfield’s brings an odd creation entitled Caesar and Otto’s Deadly Xmas, obviously a Christmas Horror, a subgenre in the horror genre, and likely one of the tougher sub-genre to compete therein without becoming too campy or corny. A fan of the b-list actors, b-movies, and a super silly film, that feels like Bruce Campbell’s Ash is all that misses this fanfare, make to spot the Abbott and Costello modifications, may need a second showing to catch them all. Dave’s zany film leans more to a parody, rather than homage to Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984), except with the following scenes, first involving scream queen Linnea Quigley and a fine set of antlers, with Deron Miller (of CJY Fame) as Santa Demian, mounting her on display. The second homage thrill, the legendary actor, director and producer Lloyd Kaufman as Caesar’s grandfather, and mentions the usage of a chainsaw for removing male genitalia. The brothers Caesar (Campfield) and Otto (Paul Chomicki), battle unknowingly Demian who obtains Caesar’s Thanksgiving invitation list and begins a sloppy, bloody and loony killing spree. Sounds perfectly normal not a Troma-style film, but this Three Stooges romp, doesn’t worry the lunacy of the plot anyone taking them too serious, providing a film that just contains fun. In addition, award-winning screenwriter, Joe Randazzo, who met Campfield, at film festivals joined as both producer and screenwriter, lent his talents to this film. Then adding into the mix a clueless 911 operator by the name of Debbie Rochon, Brinke Stevens, and Robert Z’Dar also contribute cameos to the film, with Felissa Rose of Sleepaway Camp fame. Therefore, the blood, violence, chaos and some gore spread merrily throughout the film with the required topless shot to fill-out the naughty checklist of any slasher Christmas horror fans.

The final film of the festival and the night before the unleashing of the awards came from Jon Binkowski, director and writer, along with Stephen DeWoody, who both now have a stellar novel called Serpentine Fire. Jon marked himself as a returning champion to The Terror Film Festival; have grace the stage masterfully, with wonderful stellar poise, for his film Scare Zone (2009) and now with The Visitant. The definition of Visitant presented to audience one from the spirit world, and this tidbit will bode dangerous for the central character Samantha, who plays the part of a psychic (though a fake one), and not respectful nor understanding of the powers from the other side of life. Tribulation in life drove her to this point, mainly the result of becoming a sudden widow, and still longing for her dearly departed husband. Soon Samantha (Janie Michele Simms ) who did a convincingly successful job with her character’s skeptic and rational thinking, assisted by Lee (Tracy Wiu – no stranger to the horror genre, Cassadaga (2011)) have more paranormal issues to deal at an alarming rising rate, all thanks to indirect invitation. Jon creates an effective chilling tale, presenting the scares in flickering lights, rattle windows, slamming of doors, violently moving objects, swarming indoor fogs, all to achieve manifestations. The spiritual encouraging comes from Sam’s own doing, by breaking the rules of dealing with ghosts, engaging one-on-one, no protection, direct communication, and false identifications, all which brings increasing downfalls and torments. One keen aspect in the film comes from the assumption that a haunting or spiritual transference likens itself to that of a cold, easily to transmit hard to rid oneself of it.

Time, swiftly moved in three short festival days blurring conversations into whispers, forever lost in the winds of life, and resolve that the festival perhaps ran its course, as the award show and the previous days had a half empty feel to itself. There was something a tad off of the festival, while the showmanship presented itself, and the smiles gleamed from the attendees and award winners, fans found the event enjoyable, a eerily essence still tremble in the undercurrent of the entire event. The award show had many no-shows, and yet those on hand had the passion of filmmakers, not those consumed with fantasies of glorious riches, but rather showing their skill and craft to their peers, cheered on by parents, families in general. Sometimes festivals find themselves dotted with dozens of flashes from cameras, a quite bit of pomp-and-circumstance but, Fel and Princess Horror they provide the insanity and elegance, respectively.

In the off season TFF discussed advancing the show into a convention, then dismissed that issue, and the 2014 season, their ninth titillating venture from the creative mind of Fel Angel and the divine guidance from Princess Horror sought for an online festival. This festival, as opposed to others, takes a new stance, a free festival presenting the films over a 3-day course on the days of Thursday through Saturday, October 30 to November 1, all from the comfort of one’s home.