Welcome to Part 1 of our coverage of the Nightmares Film Festival.
Nightmares Film Festival is a destination horror and genre fest conveniently held in the heart of the Midwest: easily reached, easily navigated and inclusive Columbus, Ohio.
NFF sets itself apart from other genre fests by its deep year-round connection to the horror filmmaking community, which gives it the first line on the rarest, scariest, most daring and most unsettling films being created around the country. Festival screenings are held at the world-renowned Gateway Film Center, named one of the 20 best art houses on the continent by Sundance. The film centre’s dedicated team of expert projectionists – maybe the last such team in the country – oversees all presentations, to ensure every film looks and sounds its very best. World-class screening facilities. Top-notch films. Filmmakers and fans were shocked and celebrated together. Nightmare Film Festival is a prestige festival and part of advancing horror filmmaking around the world.
Psychiatrist Elizabeth Derby becomes obsessed with helping a young patient who’s suffering from extreme personality disorder. However, it soon leads her into occult danger as she tries to escape from a horrific fate.
Director: Joe Lynch
I’m going to guess Joe Lynch is a Stuart Gordon fan.
The Mayhem director returns to the horror genre with a Lovecraftian fable, but this is no garden variety Lovecraft. Lynch’s vibe and manner – not to mention co-writer and cast – lean closer to Gordon homage than outright cosmic horror.
Lynch loosely adapts Lovecraft’s The Thing on the Doorstep, writing with Stewart’s longtime collaborator Dennis Paoli (Re-Animator, From Beyond, Castle Freak, Dagon). Their tale shadows psychiatrist Elizabeth Derby (Heather Graham), who – against her own better instincts – takes on a new patient. Asa (Judah Lewis) believes his father is trying to steal his body.
Cleaving to science and yet inexplicably attracted to the young man, Derby fails to understand her patient’s claims until it is too late – an evil entity has moved from Asa’s father into Asa and is now threatening to take over Dr. Derby’s body.
Graham’s a bit of campy fun in a dual role – far more fun when she gets to dig into the hedonistic villain character. It’s a performance that lets the actor stretch a bit and she seems to relish the darker side of the role. Likewise, Lewis excels in particular when the sinister force inhabits meek and terrified Asa.
Of course, no Gordonesque Lovecraftian flick is complete without the glorious Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, From Beyond, Castle Freak). Crampton’s Dani, Derby’s uptightcolleague and best friend, becomes an ideal foil for the transformed psychiatrist. Graham and Crampton vamp it up as the demon oscillates between them, which is as much fun as it sounds like it would be.
The film feels very much like a Dennis Paoli film and fans of his Gordon collaborations have reason to celebrate. But Suitable Flesh doesn’t entirely deliver on its promise of mayhem. It never quite leaps off that cliff the way Paoli films usually do and for that reason feels a tad tame.
But a game cast and a bit of 80s inspired lunacy ensure a good time is had by all. Plus, that’s a great title.
You get the sense early on that the German thriller Trunk may have some pleasant surprises in store.
Malina (Sina Martens, terrific in a physically demanding role) wakes up to find herself badly injured and confined to the trunk of a car. The trunk is ajar, and before the driver returns to shut her inside, Malina is able to retrieve her cell phone.
And lemme guess, the phone’s almost dead, right?
Okay, then, here we go! Dialing a series of well-chosen contacts, Malina has to 1) stay alive, and 2) piece together what’s happening while she looks for an escape route.
Writer/director Marc Schieber proves a solid triple threat here, also handling the editing duties with a deft hand and solid instincts for pacing and tension.
The cinematography is on point, as well. And while this particular trunk seems unusually roomy, Scheiber consistently lands precisely the type of claustrophobic camera angles and POV shots that Liam Nesson’s recent car-centric thriller Retribution tried in vain to achieve.
You may end up sniffing out some the mystery at play, but even so, Scheiber’s finale will be no less satisfying. Trunk is a tense, crowd-pleasing thriller, one that adds enough detours to a well-traveled road until it’s fun again.
So climb in, and enjoy the ride.
THE BEAST OF WALTON ST.
As the homeless population of an Ohio town is ravaged by brutal deaths in the dead of winter, city officials turn a blind eye to the violence in the name of squashing panic. With no help from the city in sight, Constance Wilmenson, played by Athena Murzda (The Haunted World of CW), and Sketch Williams, played by Mia Jones (Rhyme Slaya, Urban Cannibal Massacre), make a pact to defend their turf in the name of their forgotten homeless brethren and fight back against the deadly creature… a werewolf.
A good creature feature is hard to do on an indie budget. Many filmmakers have tried – and failed spectacularly – to bring monsters to life with little money and even worse, little imagination. The Beast of Walton Street bucks that trend by delivering thrilling monster mayhem and a steady supply of wit and heart.
In a nameless Ohio town, a beast is roaming the Christmas decorated streets and picking off the most vulnerable: the unhoused. Friends Constance (Athena Murzda) and Sketch (Mia Jones) live on the fringes of society – barely scraping by and living in an abandoned auto repair shop. As the two notice more and more of the city’s at-risk residents disappearing, they decide to take matters into their own hands and defend their town from the ravenous beast.
There’s a palpable level of energy that flows through the entirety of The Beast of Walton Street. Director Dusty Austen’s competency behind the camera is evident and admirable. The level of care and skill shown toward the craft of filmmaking is immediately
recognizable in the editing, blocking, lighting, and shot composition. Craft is something that unfortunately falls to the wayside in many indie films, but in The Beast of Walton Street it’s on full display.
Austen is wisely economical when it comes to showing the titular beast (which is actually a werewolf). How Austen chose to shoot and edit around the beast is truly impressive. This reviewer was reminded of Ridley Scott’s Alien on more than one occasion. The ferocity of the werewolf is never lost on the viewer and so much of that is due to Austen’s confident handling of craft.
On the flip-side, the human element of Beast of Walton Street is just as impressive. While Murzda carries the film as the lead, both she and Jones have a delightfully charming chemistry that makes the beast-less scenes just as fun. While neither actor has a long resume (yet!), their comfort and flexibility in front of the camera is evident.
The Beast of Walton Street doesn’t reinvent the werewolf wheel, but what it does is offer up an Amblin-esque punk rock creature feature, and that is more than enough for me.
MURDER BALLADS: HOW TO MAKE IT IN ROCK ‘N’ ROLL
The story follows a struggling British rock band in desperate need of a new image – including a new member – and a new hit song.
Rock music and horror have always gone together like peanut butter and jelly. Given that both are considered outsider artforms, it’s just a natural pairing. After all, rock (and metal or punk) music tends to be aggressive and there is no genre of film more aggressive than horror. Even action cinema tends to be less brutal.
Comedy is another genre that fits well with both horror and rock. Both artforms love to roll about in camp on occasion, cutting loose with over-the-top subject matter and black humor. Murder Ballads knows all of this and revels in it, while also mixing doses of British crime into the mix as well. What results is an offbeat concoction that feels like someone dumped elements of ‘90s slacker comedies, music biopics, and ‘90s crime comedies into a blender. The trappings are lo-fi due to its indie budget, but the throwback sentiments remain intact.
The story follows a struggling British rock band in desperate need of a new image – including a new member – and a new hit song. If they cannot swing either one, their label is going to give them the boot. Desperate times call for desperate measures and those desperate measures end up involving theft, deception, and murder, among other things. If that weren’t enough, most of the band members also happen to be morons. Given that morons are prone to making mistakes and mistakes are the last thing one should be making when committing crimes, well, you can see why things inevitably get out of control.
Writer/director Mitchell Tolliday has crafted a fun little film here about the darkly comedic and supremely chaotic rise and fall of a British rock ‘n’ roll band. The performances are pitched properly to the film’s playful tone, the faux documentary cutaways to actor Simon Callow are amusing, and the segues between sections are cute and inventive. Aside from some occasional pacing issues, this is a fun time.