IN 2017, after past attempts to establish long-term fests had failed, the intrepid crew of DREW MARVICK, MIKE LENZINI, JUSTIN BERGONZONI and DARREN FLORES launched Las Vegas’s only horror-centric film festival, SIN CITY HORROR FEST.
To make it four consecutive years running, because of the current situation, the guys took it online this year, thrilling, dazzling and pretty much EXHAUSTING fans’ horror ‘joneses’ with a record-smashing NINETY-EIGHT film shorts and eight features, over the span of a four-day weekend.
I wish I could say there were some awful entries because it would’ve made the process easier. But having pared the “Best Of” list down to a final list of twenty – which was tough enough – I then had to go even further, and cut that twenty down to TEN for the shorts, while cutting the features down to a final three.
The process had me feeling for the guys, and for guest judge, Weng’s Chop creator/editor-in-chief and writer TONY STRAUSS, because selecting the Fest’s deserving award winners could NOT have been an easy task by any means.
Nevertheless, Dear Readers, the one question I used as my guide, did ease things a bit…
“If I could only tell a friend about ten shorts and three features I saw at the Fest, which ones would they be?”
Read on, Macduff… and you will know!
Written and Directed by JEFF WEDDING
Adapted from a short story by RAY RUSSELL
Sylvia, a pretty, petite blond woman is assaulted and nearly raped by two rednecks, back in an isolated part of the swamps. But the moment they’re distracted, she takes the chance to get the drop on them and kills them both. Afterward, stumbling dazed by the side of the road near the town of Bigelow, she attracts the attention of a concerned farmer, who turns “Good Samaritan” and comes to her aid.
Taking her home to help treat her wounds, she also meets young Caleb, the son of her new savior, (who tells her to call him “Paw.”) To say that the three of them hit it off would be putting it mildly, as Sylvia turns out to be a woman who’s not only not ashamed of her earthly sexuality, she has no qualms about sharing it anytime, anywhere with whoever’s around – including Caleb (a LOT), Paw (eventually) and the nosy and VERY perverted Reverend Simms, who takes a very close interest in the young woman’s “spiritual welfare.” Understandably, the Reverend’s spouse, Mrs. Simms, takes a very dim view of what’s been going on to say the least.
Meanwhile, the brother of one of the murdered would-be-rapist has just found his sibling’s body, and is now headed for Bigelow, loaded for bear with vengeance on his mind…
Skillfully based on legendary writer Russell’s “American Gothic”, Wedding takes us on a raucous and risqué journey that starts off as a rural sex comedy of sorts, frenetically fun to watch and so engaging, thanks to the way the music, editing and performances come together, that you don’t really see the screws starting to turn. And once you do, you can’t unsee them, as you gradually begin to learn even before our “heroes”, that there’s more to Sylvia than just a tight little body and a tireless libido. The ending is a jaw-dropper, even if you THINK you know where things are headed.
The job Wedding has done with the material can’t be lauded enough, but a good portion of the kudos have to go to DP ERIC STANZE, composer GREG BENNETT, “Jill-of-all-trades”, art director/costume designer-and-more, KATIE GROSHONG, and an incredible cast: JACKIE KELLY as “Sylvia”, WILLIAM RYAN WATSON as “Caleb,’ VICTOR HOLLINGSWORTH as “Paw,” WYNN REICHERT as “The Reverend Simms,” CHRISTINE POYTHRESS as “Mrs. Simms,” and JASON CHRIST as “Ronnie”, the vengeful brother. (Editor’s note: You can see my review here)
Written and Directed by ANDREAS RESCH
For those who usually skip foreign films because they “don’t like having to read during movies”, they’re closing themselves off to an entire world of amazing cinematic experiences. Sure, the language may not be one that you speak, but people everywhere all have the same hopes, dreams and fears that we all do, no matter what dialect it’s expressed in.
All that Marlene (CORDELIA ZIELONKA) wants to do is make a fresh start. A restorer of rare museum artifacts, who just got out of a really shitty relationship, all she wants to do is move to Berlin and get a brand new start. In short order, she gets a new job lined up, makes new friends with her co-worker, Luisa (ANNE WEINKNECHT), and her boss, Ludwig, (VALENTIN SCHREYER), and gets set up in her new sublet apartment. Only there’s a problem: her odd, quirky upstairs neighbor, Flo, (THOMAS CLEMENS). To say that he’s lacking in the usual ‘social graces’ is putting it mildly. He has no concept of personal boundaries, tends to be aggressive, controlling and very needy. And guess what? THAT’S in the first couple of times Marlene meets him. Not to mention that he’s one of THE most inconsiderably noisy neighbors anyone could ever want to toss off a nearby balcony.
But if you think that should send up red flags, wait until you get a load of what happens next.
MARLENE is by terms captivating, gripping and absolutely terrifying – a relationship drama that suddenly decides to “go off its meds cold-turkey”, and much like TENNESSEE GOTHIC, fools you initially into believing you’re watching one kind of movie, before it does a ‘180’ and turns into something completely unexpected.
The entire cast is great, but the two actors who really deliver are, thankfully, Zielonka and Clemens, who does a great job channeling Anthony Perkins on steroids (albeit in German). Their chemistry and the way they play off one another is where the movie stands or falls, and MARLENE is one of those that, once seen, won’t be exiting your memories – or your nightmares – anytime soon.
Especially unsettling is how matter-of-factly Resch handles this…as if this is something that could happen (and probably has in some form or fashion) to anybody in any town, any country. (And I’m sure viewers will be able to think of several similar American films that this is similar to, aside from the obvious.)
With an ending that some viewers may find unconventional, MARLENE nevertheless is one of those movies I’d wholeheartedly recommend as a first experience with a foreign film, for those fans of horror and suspense who have never seen one.
Written and Directed by JOE BADON
Like the best movies that take audiences on a freaky journey through a character’s fractured mind – Polanski’s REPULSION, Cronenberg’s SPIDER and Lynch’s LOST HIGHWAY are some stellar examples – writer/director Badon continually keeps you off-balance and simultaneously on your toes with this psychedelic, gory, unpredictable and ultimately heartbreaking “Tale of Two Sisters: Peyote Edition,” as a woman, Anne Hutchinson (KALI RUSSELL) struggles with the mysterious disappearance of her younger sister, Karen (HOLLY BONNEY).
That’s the oversimplified version of the story. If you don’t like your movies spoon-fed to you with a linear narrative, and you love the challenges thrown at you and your brain cells by directors like Ken Russell, Paul Thomas Anderson, Darren Aronofsky and the ones I already mentioned, this is your stop. Get off and dive in.
And there you have it. The shorts and features I highlighted that I thought should be mentioned before anything else featured at the Fest (though everything shown had various good reasons to be seen and discussed. Often.)
I hope that when going out becomes possible again, this will convince you, Dear Reader, to come to Vegas and join us for next year’s edition, which I’m sure will top even THIS one.
Thanks for reading…and now, for the prizes that were taken home!
Complete List of Awards for SIN CITY HORROR FEST 2020
BEST KILL – “THE FACIAL” from SONRISAS (SMILES)
BEST KILLER – BACKWARD CREEP
BEST MAKEUP FX – Rachel Wagner for STRIP
BEST SOUND DESIGN – MALAKOUT
BEST SCORE – NIGHT OF THE WITCH
BEST EDITING – Ryan Buckley for POSSESSIONS
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY – THE HISTORY OF MONSTERS
BEST ACTRESS – Christine Woods for POSSESSIONS
BEST ACTOR – John Ennis for THIS IS NOT ACTING, THIS IS HELL!
BEST SCREENPLAY – THE SPRINGFIELD THREE
BEST DIRECTOR – Presley Paras for BUFFALO & TROUT
BEST SHORT – MALAKOUT
BEST KILL: “MEAT TENDERIZER” from THE CURSE OF VALBURGA
BEST KILLER – Jerry G. Angelo in ARTIK
BEST MAKEUP FX – THE CURSE OF VALBURGA
BEST SOUND DESIGN – Jeff Wedding for TENNESSEE GOTHIC
BEST EDITING – Joe Estrade for SISTER TEMPEST
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY – ERIC STANZE for TENNESSEE GOTHIC
BEST ACTRESS – Cordula Zielonka for MARLENE
BEST ACTOR – Simon Phillips for THE NIGHTS BEFORE CHRISTMAS
BEST SCREENPLAY – Jeff Wedding for TENNESSEE GOTHIC
BEST DIRECTOR – Joe Badon for SISTER TEMPEST
BEST FEATURE – SISTER TEMPEST