The fifth Celluloid Screams in Sheffield kicked off this year with an opening night gala introduced by this year’s guest of honour, Frank Henenlotter. The opening film, not one of Henenlotter’s but similar in spirit, was Don Thacker’s Motivational Growth, a raucous, imaginative and unruly movie about a depressed guy living in an apartment whose mouldy walls speak to him in the voice of Jeffrey Combs. Thacker, an enthusiastic, loveable guy hailing from Seattle was on hand to introduce the movie and to handle the Q&A afterwards. Thacker shows great promise: Motivational Growth is an oddity for sure, with enough ideas for three or four movies, but Thacker’s sure sense of style keeps the proceedings moving at a fair pace and he is definitely one to watch.
Rob Nevitt, the festival organiser of Celluloid Screams has done a bang up job this year. Not only did he secure Henenlotter in person but also managed to find a pristine print of Basket Case (from Finland no less) for Friday’s late double-bill of Basket Case & Basket Case 2. Henenlotter was on droll form as he described the contrasting productions of his two best known films and gave a Q&A afterwards. A genuine movie legend, Henenlotter’s spirit of independence and love of low budget exploitation is an inspiration to all, and the festival audience obviously shared his infectious enthusiasm for the weird and wonderful.
Day two kicked off with a screening of Painless, the excellent but emotionally gruelling Spanish debut of Juan Carlos Medina. In the afternoon Lee Hardcastle premiered his new short, Ghost-Burger, a twenty minute sequel to his ABCs of Death entry, T is for Toilet featuring the same boy character (the one who got his head crushed by the falling toilet cistern) as part of a selection of his work. Hilarious and thought-provoking by turns, Hardcastle’s move towards longer-form narrative is a rip-roaring success and comes on as subversive as the rest of his films. Let’s hope he makes his first feature soon.
The Battery, Jeremy Gardner’s low-fi zombie movie, roused the audience with its tale of two former baseball players who cross New England in search of a protected community while trying both to steer clear of shambling corpses and overcome the stark differences of each other’s personalities. The Battery shows there is life in the old zombie yet, when a little intelligence is applied.
Equally impressive was Chad Crawford Kinkle’s Jug Face, the story of a pregnant girl’s attempt to avoid becoming the next in line for sacrifice in her backwoods community. Strong scripting and direction by Kinkle, a powerful performance by Lauren Ashley Carter (outstanding in The Woman) as Ada, the girl seeking escape, and great supporting roles by Sean Bridgers, Larry Fessenden and Sean Young make Jug Face easily one of the best films of the year.
Chiméres has distinction of being one of the first French-Swiss horror films ever made - let’s hope there are more where that came from. Olivier Beguin’s debut feature tells the tale of two lovers whose happiness is torn asunder after an accident leaves one of them needing human blood to survive. Less a story of vampirism and more a meditation on how far people are willing to go in the name of love, Chiméres veers somewhere between Martin and Les Nuits Fauves, and is sometimes a little unsure on its feet, but haunting nevertheless.
The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears closed Saturday evening in terms of new movies. The hardier souls stayed on for a bonza all-nighter (again introduced by Henenlotter) of Frankenhooker, The Return of the Living Dead, The Beyond and Demons. We raise our hats to the hardcore few who went straight from that mammoth shock-around-the-clock (with barely a wink of sleep) to Sunday’s Der Fan, the 1982 German expose of teenage obsession introduced by Kier-La Janisse, author of the excellent House of Psychotic Women.
Big Bad Wolves followed. Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado’s brilliant and confounding spin on torture porn deservedly won this year’s audience award.
Celluloid Screams features a secret film each year and 2013’s was Joe Begos’s feature debut, Almost Human, a deliberate throw-back to the 1980s straight-to-video alien invasion movie that gets its retro feel right on the money.
Director Brian Netto was on hand to introduce his film Delivery, a found footage Paranormal Activity meets Rosemary’s Baby with knobs on, that kept the audience gripped all the way to its shock ending. Sunday night’s fever ended with Discopath, Renaud Gauthier’s retro pastiche of disco and slasher movies set in 1970s New York (but filmed in Canada). Gauthier was present to introduce his labour-of-love and give a Q&A afterwards. Disappointingly he wasn’t dressed in white suit, black open collar shirt and neck chain. Nevertheless it was an up and great way to end a great weekend.
With Nevitt and his crew, Henenlotter and the other directors and actors in attendance throughout and a whole raft of excellent shorts supporting the main features, Celluloid Screams 2013 was a total triumph and great fun all-round. Roll on next year.