In a year where most events have been postponed by the pandemic, the Atlanta Horror Film Festival is has been one of the few bright spots for the city. Yesterday was opening night and no one was sure there’d be significant turnout. From one, this is the first time the festival is being held outdoors in an effort to encourage social distancing. The concern proved to be a overblown as a good number of fans gathered to view the over 90 films screening over the next four days. BeatsBoxingMayhem was on hand the entire evening and has your full recap below.
SHORT BLOCKS #1: HAZARDOUS DUTIES
Sometimes, horror is a part of the job. The first festival block focused on dangerous professions and the ensuing mayhem.
Silver Shamrock Music Video (Director Jason C. Wilson)
After the hell we’ve endured this year, it was cool to start out on a happy note. This 1 minute flick is essentially a punk rock version of the Halloween III theme courtesy of Billy Batts & The Made Men. The flashing TV was nice homage to the deadly commercial from the film.
Cassette (Director Ilya Polyakov)
Be careful who you tell about your dreams. An inspiring screenwriter makes the mistake of applying for a job at a creepy video store and ends up becoming the star attraction. Those of us who grew up in the VHS era will appreciate this one since our generation spent countless hours scouring video shelves. (“Be Kind and Rewind”). The twist of the main character’s soul becoming “trapped” has been done in various ways, but the depiction of the store as a living entity was effective.
Social Silence (Director Tony Ahedo, Jason Henne)
One of my favorites from this block. A down on her luck social media influencer named Elli (Michelle Natalie Nunez) receives a DM offer for a $5000 photo shoot. The doe-eyed Elli, who’s also deaf, doesn’t realize she’s being lured to the den of a serial killer. The striking color palettes made this feel like a brooding nightmare and Elli’s vulnerability, both in economic status and physicality, makes you remember the many young women that get forced into similar situations. There is a happy ending (of sorts), but the post-credit images serve a grim reminder of those who didn’t make it. Very well done and could definitely work as a feature.
Lili (Director Yfke Van Berckalaer)
Lili is here to nail an audition and seemingly falls victim to a “casting couch” nightmare. Fortunately, Lili isn’t the bubbly-eyed, fearful young actress she puts on and the would-be predator gets his bloody comeuppance.
Many women will be able to relate to how quickly things can go from professional to nefarious in the workplace.
Don’t You Dare (Director Jonathan Cook)
In keeping with the theme of abusers getting what they deserve, a group of sex traffickers receive supernatural justice at the hands of a dark entity. The victims are able to achieve this by utilizing an occult ritual. Surprisingly good special effects with the demon. Starts a bit slow but picks up nicely.
Naughty (Director Shawn Driscoll)
You have to be a real lowlife to rob a house on Christmas Eve. But this petty thief, dressed up like Santa Claus no less, gets more than he bargained for when the little girl living there wakes up and proves to be an unrepentant psychopath. This was one of the more unexpectedly humorous shorts.
Dead Wall (Director Alex Greenlee)
By far the creepiest entry. Dead Wall doesn’t shy away from showing the demonic entity but also speaks to the suicidal depression that can manifest from heartbreak. In fact, you could make an argument that the entity represents the main character’s dark passenger following the painful breakup with her boyfriend.
One Bad Night (Director Alec Gibbons)
A mysterious woman wakes up injured after being left for dead. She slowly begins to piece together the betrayal and looks for revenge in a small desert town. More thriller than horror, the story never really came together for me despite the 14-minute run time (longer than anything else in this block). In the end, the mysterious loner remained a bit too mysterious for me to get invested in her revenge.
Kung Pao Corpse (Director Zack Burnett)
There’s been many satirical zombie flicks, but this has to be a first where the premise is one that loves kung pao chicken. A Chinese delivery driver arrives to drop off an order placed at a cemetery, only to discover the order has been placed by a member of the undead. Comedy ensues as the friendly zombie gives shares life lessons and proper living dead etiquette (#1 is the living are not allowed to say the word “zombie’). A fun flick on what it means to place yourself in someone else’s shoes … or coffin.
SHORTS BLOCKS #2: ANIMALS!
We love them, but maintain a healthy respect for their wild nature. This block showcases what happens when instincts completely take over.
Specimen (Director Maise Hooper)
Clocking in at only two minutes, the effectiveness of this short rests with the makeup work on the creature. In a male version of the Psycho shower scene, a man is pounced on by a murderous humanoid creature. I would’ve preferred to see more of the creature, but what we see is unsettling enough.
Little Wolf: The Night Trail
Fantastic animation highlights this tale of a young boy fighting against supernatural, bloodthirsty creatures with the help of a sage wolf. The animation allows for levels of action and gore we rarely see in other shorts. Very engaging with a hints at an established lore to build upon (most notably chasing after the Wendigo).
Wrath (Director John-Daniel Arauz)
In a dystopian future, state prisoners are forced to complete dangerous labor task throughout an abandoned city. In doing so, one unnamed prisoner experiences ghosts from his past. The stitled animation visuals helps drive home the hopelessness of this society, and smaller images, like that a yelping dog in death throes, also work really well. However, the story dragged too long and hurt the finale.
Worm (Director Ilya Polyakov)
Loneliness leads to lapses in judgments. Take this story of a lonely woman who falls in love too quickly with a killer neighbor. Some humorous beats early on but gets unsettling over the final minutes. Just wish the payoff and ending wasn’t so abrupt.
The Pig (Director Simon Sheets)
What if your life and appearance reflected how you acted? In this surreal film, a gluttonous and rude man’s life is transformed into a farm pig. He’s forced to live in a slop house while the farmer has a pig head (but the farm dog is a disturbing human on all fours). Loved the nightmare dream feel of this one.
Second Life Citizens (Director Neil Willoughby)
In our second satirical zombie flick on the festival, we join a world 2 years into the plague. But instead of worldwide collapse, the world chugs on with zombies joining the workforce and being called “Second Life Citizens.” We get a few funny points about the anti-intellectualism rampant today before the zombies transform into the flesh-eating monsters we’re used to. While super goy, the kills are in the Dead Alive vein so you’ll be laughing throughout.
Cassandra (Director David E. Tolchinsky)
A policewoman suffering from PTSD struggles to remember an incident at the old Wilson Farm while tracking a rare female serial killer named Cassandra. Helping her is a psychiatrist who has no idea what he’s truly walked into. The twist is pretty obvious but the cool thing here is we actually get to see a grotesque Jekyll and Hyde-style transformation.
Feature Film: Road Head (Director David Del Rio)
WTF did I just watch?! You’re likely to have that feeling after seeing Road Head. This wild mix of horror, comedy and a sprinkle of romance finds three friends taking a road trip to the Mojave desert, where they’re accosted by a sword-wielding killer. The killer in question has an affinity for chopping heads, leading our trio on a frantic escape journey where they run into drag queens and sex-deprived, chauvinist losers.
You’ll either lean towards the horror or comedy elements but there’s enough of both to keep your preference satisfied. Aside from the decapitations, you get severed penises and impalements. Elizabeth Grullon (Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order) gets to display her “final girl” chops as the fiery Stephanie, who’s trying to stay alive while overcoming a devastating breakup (manifested by ex-boyfriend hallucinations only she can see). She has the most steady character arc, progressing from mouthy but ultimately insecure woman to a calculating femme fatale with no fear of death. No to mention, her facial expressions lent well to the battle of sexes style comedy towards the middle of the film.
While the ending is strangely somber compared to the rest of the film , Road Head will hold your attention if for nothing else just to find out how the absurdity of it all ends.
Day 2 of the Atlanta Horror Film Festival kicks off at 7:30 p.m. ET. Get your tickets at https://filmfreeway.com/atlantahorrorfest/tickets.