The Buried Alive Film Festival wrapped up their 2019 campaign on Sunday will several documentaries, the Galli inspired feature Those Who Deserve to Die and a closing awards ceremony based on five categories (Best Feature Film, Best Short Film, Best Animation, Best WTF Film, Best Special Effects, and Best Local Film).
[Feature Review] Those Who Deserve to Die (Bret Wood, USA)
I view Bret Woods’ latest feature as the surprise sleeper of the festival. From the trailer, you get the distinct impression of a slasher film. What Woods ends up delivering is a sharp mix of revenge thriller and ’60s-styled Galli that questions viewers on if mass murder is ever justified.
We’re introduced to anti-hero Jonathan Wyndham (Joe Sykes) in the midst of him mercilessly killing an elderly couple. A drifter by nature, he’s also a vet and POW survivor whose entire unit was wiped out during the War on Terror. His mental instability and bloodlust is reflected in the apparition of his dead kid sister and “dark passenger” Berenice, played to chilling effect by Alice Lewis.
The true reason for Wyndham’s grievance is the political cover-up of his mother’s murder over the waterfront land she owned. The fallout leads to the death of Jonathan’s sister and made him an orphan. Essentially, his bloodline was exterminated. Retribution for Jonathan means not just killing those directly responsible — even a newborn relative of one of his targets becomes a victim. That scene is the most unsettling of the film and perhaps the entire festival. The justification for the killing is put in the mouth of young Berenice and punctuated by her holding the bloody hand of the newborn as its bludgeoned to death off-camera.
But the grand plan for revenge hits a snag when Jonathan falls for the headstrong Margaret (Rachel Frawley), the daughter of his final target Justice Merrill (played with all the villainous southern politician charm you can imagine by Lynn Lowry). Margaret, who leads a trauma group for military vets suffering from PTSD, has just enough vulnerability and genuine care in her spirit to break through Jonathan’s barriers. However, she has a fierce independence and raw emotion when hurt, which helps make her believable when she calls out Jonathan for his shortcomings and hypocrisy.
The horror elements diminish as the story progresses and could be a significant turnoff for some. But the story is compelling despite some of the soap opera-ish love elements to the Jonathan-Margaret subplot, and the Berenice character ensures the atmosphere does retain a palpable level of dread.
[Documentary Review] J.R. “BOB” DOBBS AND THE CHURCH OF THE SUBGENIUS (Sandy K. Boon, USA)
Way back in the bygone age that was the 1980s, two self-proclaimed weirdos began to amuse themselves with inside jokes on alien-invasion style radio broadcasts and kooky pamphlets proclaiming conspiracies and cult-like salvation. But then an unlikely thing happened — the inside joke comments caught on with others and grew into an entire ideology that became known as The Church of the Subgenius and influenced an entire generation of subculture adherents.
The group’s founders, Ivan Stang and Philo Drummond, narrate the group’s origins stemming from their dissatisfaction with the status quo ranging from the working stiff culture of middle-class America down to what they viewed as the vapid spirituality seen in most Westernized religion. The concept of nirvana in Buddhism is seemingly reborn as “slack” in the Church of Subgenius. Revivals are reimagined as “devivals” where adherents gather to proclaim deliverance via their diety, a stock picture of a cheerful, cigar-smoking fictional father named “Bob.”
Depending on how open you are zany subcultures, the first half to documentary may be too weird to get into. But things become more accessible over the second half when the Subgenius leaders begin to realize the power of their words. We see sobering moments on how the group was briefly labeled as extremist due to the Columbine massacre fallout. More unconventional members join and take the group’s tongue-in-cheek mantras seriously, leading to “sect divisions.”
While there’s a good chance you may still not know how to describe the Church of the Subgenius following this documentary. But you’ll realize the power of myth-making and “finding your tribe” exceeds any social barriers. Everyone finds their passion (ie. “religious zeal”) somewhere, and these social outcasts found it at the altar of Bob.
[Documentary Review] MARK OF THE BEST: THE LEGACY OF THE UNIVERSAL WEREWOLF
The mythology of the werewolf is well known in popular culture. You get bit by one, you become one. A full moon triggers the transformation. Silver bullets are fatal. But when movie studio Universal embarked on its first werewolf film with 1941’s Wolf Man, this blueprint was yet to be written, and this thorough documentary tells the story of the werewolf’s unique rise in horror cinema as a tragic, suicidal figure.
Considerable time is spent on detailing the process of coming up with the Wolf Man’s makeup, particularly his prosthetic nose and hair design. Focus is also given to the immense influence of Lon Chaney on the role, whose imposing figure was contrasted with a sad, dejected face that defined the tragic nature of his affliction and inner demons.
For those unfamiliar with the era’s numerous mashups, it will be illuminating to discover that modern films like Freddy vs. Jason were commonplace back then and saw the Wolf Man pitted against the likes of Dracula, Frankenstein and even Abbott and Costello throughout the 40s.
One the stronger focuses on the documentary is getting John Landis to discuss the process of getting the American Werewolf in London to the big screen and having potential conflict with The Howling. Special effects creator Rick Baker was scheduled to work on the latter, but years earlier had made a handshake agreement with Landis to use his talents on American Werewolf. Baker ended up keeping his word to Landis and it was cool to hear Howling director Joe Dante explain the situation from his end and not have any bitter feelings.
The documentary doesn’t have the same reverence for the 2010 Wolfman remake although appreciation is stated for how Benicio Del Toro admittedly channeled Chaney’s mannerisms for much of the role. And although not a direct descendant, it feels like a glaring omission that the Ginger Snaps movie isn’t analyzed as a modern adaption that smartly builds on Universal’s werewolf lore.
It was remarkable to learn in the post-film Q&A with director Daniel Griffith that this movie was made in the span of 3-4 months to make the deadline of being included in Arrow’s Extended Director’s Edition of American Werewolf In London. For those interested in the history of this horror icon, this documentary is a must-have and worthy of a standalone release.
SHORTS BLOCK #5 – “THE TOLL OF THE DEATH BELL, HOW LOVELY!”
In Sound We Live Forever (Joshua Giuliano, USA)
There’s a killer on the loose and we have to first visualize the murders of the young couple in this innovative short. The first half of the film has idyllic images of a truck, a field and open beer cans. Dialogue from the victims is played over these shots so we can imagine the couple enjoying their picnic date. Then, things go horribly wrong as we hear the killer approach, the ensuing struggle, then the murder of the young man.
The perspective then changes to a conventional, real-time view as the hiding woman attempts to escape. She’s able to restart the truck and makes it down the road before it stalling out. Knowing her fate is sealed, we get a disturbing final shot of her frantically repeating Hail Marys before being pulled from the truck and killed.
I absolutely loved this one. The starting view was almost like looking through the eyes of a forensic detective.
All Stretched Out (Alastair Train, USA)
A yoga novice mistakenly joins an advanced class and pushes his body past its limits. Something has to give and in this case its his guts. Short, sweet and gory at three minutes.
Meat Wagon (Josh Gould, USA)
Two ambulance workers of the “meat wagon” respond to a call over difficulty breathing which quickly turns into crisis over voodoo and curses. The concept here has potential but never truly comes together. The disjointed ending of one of the men having resentment towards religion seemed tacked on to extend the plot rather than being a logical outpouring after what they just witnessed.
His Mother (Dawid Krepski, USA)
A twist on the demon baby motif has this aspiring immigrant actress unwittingly being groomed to bear the spawn of Satan. Her warm personality makes this especially creepy as her words get most lost from reality as she ignores the warning signs that her baby is not normal (it devours raw meat within seconds). But hey, if one thing never wanes, it’s a mother’s love for her child.
Dead Animals (David Oesch and Remo Rickenbacher, Switzerland)
Everyone who’s lost a pet knows it can be akin to losing a human family member. Dead Animals plays strongly on that emotion with this strange but ultimately beautiful tale of learning to get closure from grief.
A man has kept the remains of his dead cat for months, refusing to bring it to the animal carcass disposal to be discarded like common waste. Fate has him come across a taxidermist who promises to restore the animal to its “purest form.” The taxidermist’s “satisfied customer’s book” shows many chose to honor their pets by wearing them as clothing accessories (headphones, ties, bags etc.). In the end, the man determines his pet cat always wanted to travel on water, and the taxidermist ends up recrafting the deceased pet into a motorized boat.
Yes, it all sounds batshit crazy, but the final shot of the man’s face showing pure happiness even got some tears from one of the judges. Not a conventional happy ending, but a happy one nonetheless.
Dead Teenager Seance (Dante Vescio and Rodrigo Gasparini, Brazil)
Being dead doesn’t mean you can’t get revenge on the slasher who killed you. In Dead Teenager Seance, the victims of a masked killer have their souls trapped in the house of their demise for eternity. But once the latest victim arrives, the now five teens devise a plan to escape Limbo and enact revenge on the killer once and for all.
This one was really cute and for some reason gave me Scooby Doo vibes. Initially, you think the hooded teens are the villains so it was a nice surprise to see them all team up and get even. But one question — is everyone still dead???
La Llorona (H.J. Leonard, India)
You know what, this festival could use a good-old-fashioned rom-com! Yes, this film took the La Llorona mythology and makes it into an adorable story of rebound love when Prenay, who just caught his girlfriend cheating on him, gets drunk out in the street and runs into Llorona. After some coaxing, the undead bride reveals her own grievances and we get a gradual love connection. Very charming banter and chemistry with these two. Almost makes you want to find your own undead love connection
Love Bite (Charles de Lauzirika, USA)
If you bickered with your significant other before the zombie apocalypse, chances are it’ll get worse once the outbreak hits. Like the previous film, you can view this as a rom-com but more in the “battle of sexes” realm.
The man is the hen-pecked party and tired of being constantly emasculated. It gets to the point were a simple debate on what causes the actual zombie infection leads to him deliberately infecting his girlfriend’s cut with zombie saliva. He does all this just to hear the words he’s always yearned for (“You were right…”).
There’s a small dog here that adds to the comic relief with its inquisitive faces. And if you think the man got away scot-free, he makes a stupid mistake (eating a candy bar infected with zombie saliva) that ensures he’ll soon join his zombified girlfriend.
BURIED ALIVE FESTIVAL AWARD WINNERS
It was an honor to be a part of this year’s judging committee! We watched, rewatched and sometimes watched again to come up with this final list of winners.
BEST FEATURE – Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made
BEST SPECIAL EFFECTS – VFW
BEST SHORT – Ferine
BEST LOCAL FILM – Budfoot
BEST WTF FILM – Five Course Meal
BEST ANIMATION – Bavure
Be sure to look out for a January announcement here when submissions are open for Buried Alive 2020!