Last weekend I attended Southend’s annual horror film festival that features independently made shorts and features over the course of two weekends.
A conference room on the first floor of the Park Inn Hotel was converted into a makeshift cinema for fans of ghosts and gore. The organisers were passionate and chatted in-between screenings with the audience as if old friends, which some of them were – Horror-on-Sea is a great place for like-minded people to chat about corn syrup and red food colouring.
On the Friday I got there bright and early to watch the first two short films, which were Mother (an intriguing minimalist short about a mother coercing her son to murder his date) and Golden Shot (a beautiful animation with a bewildering plot). The main feature, Ebola Zombies, was an uneasy blend of martial arts, zombies, gore, humour and cheesy Chinese cinema. I’m still not sure whether the movie was meant to be tongue-in-cheek or not, but I do know it was far too long.
It Wasn’t Me was one of the best shorts of the weekend. Although not an entirely original idea it was definitely chilling. Seclusion was played afterwards, which was again rather unoriginal but a solid film. Weak acting and dialogue but entertaining in a way that only horror can be.
The last shorts I saw on Friday were Hotel Hell and Dead in the Water, both written, directed and starring local filmmakers. They successfully demonstrated you don’t need a huge budget to deliver pithy dialogue, good pacing and interesting concepts. The feature film shown afterwards, however, entitled ‘Zombie Women of Satan 2‘, managed to clear the room out within minutes. It was the type of pointless, chauvinist crap that the horror genre unfortunately seems to attract.
I began Saturday with Undercover Mistress and Bad Karma Santa; two shorts that I felt were trying to be clever and controversial but failed on both accounts. Dead Body was a rather entertaining follow-up, although it was predictable and could have been ended twenty minutes earlier than it did.
Commune and Pyramid were rather disappointing, both seeming to build up to something but didn’t quite deliver, whereas Night of Something Strange was the best film of the weekend for me. It was absolutely hilarious, gory and silly with incredible effects (including both a penis and vagina with gnashing teeth). I laughed all the way through. Very self-aware, satirical and clever.
The final shorts of the day, Surgery (superb twist) and It’s all in Your Head (dark fairytale) were fantastic examples of compelling filmmaking. Brilliantly shot and definitely left an impression on the audience. Good Tidings was hit and miss; the opening scene was superb and had an interesting slant on homelessness that is rarely portrayed in film, but the acting and dialogue were very off. At times it was a cheesy Die Hard wannabe and at others it attempted to be a dark indie psychological thriller. I would also have trimmed a good twenty minutes off of the end. The words, “Just die already,” came to mind quite a lot.
Sunday started off with three shorts: Poison Lover (bad plot, bad twist, bad acting, unnecessary female nudity) and two animations Larry the Lobster and the Furniture of Pain (hilarious and clever script, terrible animations). The feature, Ex From Hell, was a darkly comic and supernatural look at the difficulties of moving on from a past relationship. Great idea and superb chemistry on screen.
Three’s a Crowd was a hilarious short with amazing comic timing that was somehow enhanced by its low budget look. The Slayers was definitely up there as one of my favourite films of the weekend. Plenty of vampire slaying, gore, dad jokes and social awkwardness. So much was done with such a small budget and I would happily pay to see the two main characters, Nigel and Job, in their own TV show or series of films.
Think Snatch intertwined with the Exorcist and you have Polterheist. Funny, gruesome and starring a very talented leading lady, this was a hugely accomplished short. However, I Lived Here felt a little…empty, I suppose I would say, and the less said about Hell Town the better. It tried to be so bad it was good, but it ended up being so bad it was just plain awful.
The final short I saw that weekend was Hate Doll. It had a great cast and the premise intrigued me, but it failed to deliver anything spectacular. Things went downhill further with Nazi Vengeance as it was so disappointing. Interesting premise but was poorly paced and the plot was confused and inconsistent.
Horror-on-Sea was definitively an eye-opener. It made me see what incredible talent there is out there and really inspired me to continue to create my own work, not just for the lure of success but for the sheer joy of it. Like those local filmmakers I want to share my creativity with others. Of course there were some atrocities among the unknown gems, but it was encouraging to see an audience so respectful, so warm and so responsive who also managed to be insightful and critical. They gave opinions without being unkind and shared ideas in a way that is rarely seen in online forums and social media. I hope this is the way forward for all forms of art criticism and that, with so much utter shit being shown at the cinema, it begins to change fiction for the better.