It is October, and while it is still warm outside, fall is just around the corner. People on your Twitter timeline are giving themselves “scary” names, and everyone is posting this classic from The Onion on Facebook. If you’re anything like us, however, the arrival of fall means a renewed focus on horror cinema. Spooky Movie, DC’s horror film festival, is a chance to get your pulse quickening as the temperature finally drops. This year’s slate of films are better than what the festival usually offers, and the BYT movie team has a preview of what’s in store. You can buy a festival pass or individual tickets from the festival website, and all the screenings will be at the AFI Silver theater.
Depraved – review by Beatrice Loayza
Just when you thought the monster movie was over and out, Larry Fessenden’s modern take on Frankenstein’s creation brings an unexpected sadness and nostalgia to the classic story, touching on everything from PTSD to the anxieties of first-time fathers. Alex (Owen Campbell) is left for dead after being brutally attacked, but his brain is salvaged by talented field medic Henry (David Call). Before we know it, Alex’s consciousness is reanimated in a new form, as Adam, a horrific assemblage of different corpses stitched and stapled together. While Depraved is in many ways the epitome of low-budget filmmaking, the “monster” never looks particularly cheap or old-fashioned. He is creakier and evidently in pain, a look that fits squarely into the film’s existential anguishing. Most interestingly, a good chunk of the story unfolds from the blurred, surreal perspective of Alex as he learns to move and function like a human, and so much of what works here visually is thanks to Fessenden’s lo-fi ingenuity. It’s beyond the relationship between Alex and Henry that the film begins to lose sight of itself as it investigates corporate greed and masculinity through a third character, Henry’s financier. Like Alex’s stitched together parts, this is not a seamless narrative, but nonetheless worth the watch.
Depraved screens on October 3 at 7:15pm.
Wrinkles the Clown – review by Kaylee Dugan
I’m not sure how much time you’ve spent plundering the surprisingly vast depths of Amazon Prime Video’s horror section, but there are some weirdo gems in there. I’m talking about minimalist found footage flicks like Leaving D.C. and campy home-baked franchises like the Bad Ben universe (or the Bad Benniverse, as I’ve seen it delightfully stylized). Some of the super indie, low budget nightmares hidden deep in Prime search can even rival the hyper specific curation of horror platforms like Shudder. Wrinkles the Clown, with its too good to be real and too real to be good storyline, feels like one of those movies, but with a much bigger budget and some real auteur aspirations.
Wrinkles the Clown follows a clown named Wrinkles who has terrorized Florida (and small children all over the world) with a series of spooky homemade videos, as well as a working phone number that you can call and leave voicemails. Stickers with Wrinkles’s phone number started popping up all around Naples, Florida at the height of the 2015 clown mania and quickly fed into the mystery of the local legend. To this day, kids call the number on a dare and parents threaten their unruly children with a visit from Wrinkles. He’s like the anti-Santa Claus. He sees you when you’re sleeping… and he’s going to haunt your dreams.
If you’ve seen Rodney Ascher’s bonkers horror-laced documentaries Room 237 and The Nightmare, Wrinkles the Clown‘s fast a loose take on a doc will feel achingly familiar. As director Michael Beach Nichols plots the real life Wrinkles’s exploits around Florida, he apes Ascher at every turn, especially his surreal and beautifully shot recreations from The Nightmare. Like Ascher, he attempts to deconstruct the realities of documentary cinema, and uses recreations to paint the picture we’d like to see, as opposed to the truth. It would be an interesting take on analyzing a modern day myth, if a better version of this movie didn’t already exist.
Despite some poor pacing and a twist that is more annoying than exciting, Wrinkles the Clown highlights a truly American and truly captivating character. I have nothing but respect for my Joker.
Wrinkles the Clown screens on October 3 at 9:45pm.
After Midnight – review by Ross Bonaime
Breakups can often feel like you’re living in your own horror film. That’s the case for Hank (Jeremy Gardner), who has just been left by his longtime girlfriend Abby (Brea Grant). Hank’s every waking moment seems to be overcome by thoughts of Abby, except every night when a monster comes to his front door and tries to claw his way in. Hank knows there is a monster, but his friends just think that maybe the loss of his long-time girlfriend is maybe causing him to lose his mind.
Previously known as Something Else, After Midnight is a seamless combination of indie romantic drama and monster film, a balance that star/writer/co-director Gardner and co-director/cinematographer Christian Stella walk incredibly well. Flashing back to when Abby was still around, Gardner and Stella show glimpses of this relationship’s honeymoon phase, to how it crumbled under the weight of life and choices not made. In one incredible, uncut fifteen minute scene, Gardner and Grant perform an uncomfortably real discussion about their relationship, as we see the entire push-and-pull of their love showcased in one beautiful sequence.
After Midnight’s tone is reminiscent of the films of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead (who also act as producers here). Emotions on screen are grounded in a very honest, believable writing that makes the horrors on screen even more terrifying. After Midnight isn’t just a fantastic, paranoid thriller, it’s also an excellent look at loving and losing.
After Midnight screens on October 4 at 7:30pm.
Knives and Skin – review by Alan Zilberman
Knives and Skin begins with the disappearance of a teenage girl, and explores its aftermath in the surrounding community. This premise invites comparison to Twin Peaks, and writer/director Jennifer Reeder knows it. Her film is not a horror film, exactly, although its borrows from horror tropes. Instead, the film’s tone is deadpan, like a dark comedy that trusts audiences will start to care about the characters. Knives and Skin has a loose structure, following the missing girl’s mother and classmates as they try and hold it together. The best scenes are ones that eschew the central mystery, like frequent musical sequences. Reeder has her characters sing tunes by The Bangles, New Order, and several others. The film presents all this with dedicated detachment, although it would be a mistake to think Reeder shares that view. Her film is a response to our obsession with crime and victimhood. While David Lynch is the jumping off point, her film critiques and celebrates that tradition in equal measure.
Knives and Skin screens on October 5 at 2:10pm.
Memory: The Origins of Alien – review by Vesper Arnett
It’s fun to look back on our favorite films in different ways. Memory: The Origins of Alien is a documentary on the impacts of the 1979 horror film Alien. It looks at it through an historic, artistic, and academic lens. It collects valuable discussions on the context of the film in its time, and opens the door to further mining of its psychosexual and feminist subtexts. Using archival interviews of the screenwriter, Dan O’Bannon, the artist H. R. Giger, director Ridley Scott and others, the film focuses on the influences that evolved into the idea for the film, and the making of the iconic chest-burster scene.
Die-hard Alien fans may be left wanting more—there aren’t any present-day interviews with Ridley Scott or Sigourney Weaver—but it’s still fun to nerd out while listening to the editor discuss how everything came together. Fans interested in more “academic” reads on the film will enjoy the varied perspectives provided by professors and lecturers, too. It could serve as a decent citation for a paper. However, people who have spent any time looking into the film may already know too much. It’s still interesting enough to watch, and at a brisk 95 minutes, it can serve as a nice epilogue to a screening of Alien.
Memory screens on October 5 at 4:30pm.
One Cut of the Dead – review by Beatrice Loayza
The first feature film by Japanese director Shinichiro Ueda, One Cut of the Dead is a maniac meta-movie about movies featuring zombies, plenty of blood and gore, and constant bouts of slapstick humor. To some the experience might be overwhelming and unpleasantly unstructured, but there’s a joy to the madness, which underlies its cult following. The first thirty minutes of the film show a director frustrated with the performance of his lead actress, who isn’t convincingly scared by the cheaply made ghouls around her. Unbeknownst to the cast and crew, the shoot is taking place at an abandoned water filtration plant, where mysterious things happened not too long ago. One Cut of the Dead is one of those films that benefits greatly from knowing as little as possible, as the nature of its twists and turns and unexpected humor is what makes it so damn enjoyable. And as an homage in many ways, to the joys and pains of micro-budget independent movie making, its unexpectedly thoughtful and even tender. It should as no surprise that the director protagonist insists on keeping the film rolling even when things go sour, while indulging in burlesque comedy with inventiveness and wit.
One Cut of the Dead screens on October 6 at 12:30pm.
Villains – review by Ross Bonaime
Part Bonnie and Clyde, part Don’t Breathe, Villains melds horror, black comedy, and thriller elements into a film that tries to be too many types of film, and feels slight as a result.
Mickey and Jules (Bill Skarsgård and Maika Monroe, respectively) are a couple of thieves on the run after robbing a gas station. When their car breaks down, the pair break into a nearby house to find a new car. When they explore the basement and discover a child chained up, they realize the homeowners (Kyra Sedgwick and Jeffrey Donovan) are into some sick shit that put Mickey and Jules into even bigger danger.
Sedgwick and Donovan are having quite a bit of campy fun here. They’re the family that seems wholesome on the outside, but engage in torture and murder for the hell of it. With his over-the-top New Orleans accent, Donovan is particularly great, almost like he’s in a horror film starring Foghorn Leghorn. But Villains ends up not being particularly funny or scary, instead making the relationship dynamics the most intriguing aspect, and never going quite as far as one would expect with its premise. Villains is still an amusing little curiosity however, just weird and twisted enough to be worthwhile.
Villains screens on October 6 at 8:30pm.