A Night of Total Terror!
The Eerie Horror Film Festival Brought a Scary Good Time
After a long hiatus, the Film Society of Northwestern Pennsylvania brought the Eerie Horror Film Festival (EHFF) back to a grateful audience last year. While, in 2021, COVID restrictions and the Warner Theater's renovations prevented the Fest from reaching its full potential, this year had the Fest back in full force. The result was a four-day celebration of all things horror with events like Tarot readings, video game demonstrations, meet-and-greets and Q & A's with horror film actors and directors, and workshops for things like camera demonstrations and monster mask making. However, the real draw, like always, is the screening of films in the beautiful theater. Screenings of old classics like Hellraiser and Children of the Corn are always welcome, but I'm even more interested in the new independently produced films that are unlikely to see a screening anywhere near Erie without the Fest. The features and shorts ranged from light-hearted to deadly serious, impressively professional to charmingly amateurish, but each helped bring that independent spirit that can always be found in the horror genre. If you happened to miss the Eerie Horror Fest this year, here are my Top Five features:
1. Night Shift
My personal pick for the "Best of the Fest" was this tense, economic little thriller that is the definition of "edge of your seat." The story is of a struggling single mother (Natalie Terrazzino) who takes a late-night maintenance job at a furniture factory and finds herself the target of a group of invaders desperately trying to kill her. This film is one of non-stop tension and a cat-and-mouse game that layers the suspense perfectly. The film makes wonderful use of its single location and has fun keeping the audience on their toes, while allowing them to speculate on solutions to the heroine's dilemma in real time. It's simple but deadly effective filmmaking and some of the most fun I've had being terrified for a film character all year.
This charming little indie film is the reason that festivals like the EHFF are so important. Conceived by the husband-and-wife filmmaking team of Toby Poser and John Adams, it likely never would have seen a screening outside of a festival and it's too fun to risk losing to the streaming algorithm. The story of a mother (Toby Poser) keeping her teenage daughter (played by the couple's real daughter Zelda Adams) in isolation for fear of what her powers may do to the human race is a unique take on the old occult storyline. This one is told with a lot of energy, love, and an appropriate amount of humor. This is clearly a very low-budget affair, but the characters are likable, the story is compelling and it radiates so much love for the tale that it is easy for audiences to ignore any budget limitations. This is what indie filmmaking is all about!
3. History of the Occult
It is sometimes cliche to say that a film is "Lovecraftian" in its presentation, but this effective Argentinian horror film rightfully earned that title. Set during the broadcasting of a journalistic program called 60 Minutes Before Midnight, which is seeking to expose a conspiracy between the government and a secret society of warlocks, the producers learn that the truths go far deeper than any of them expected. The result is a mind-bending journey into the occult, the unraveling of reality and the possible end of the world. Like Night Shift, this one is set mostly in one location which makes great use of its budget and the crisp black-and-white cinematography gives it the feel of an old investigative journalism show. It is difficult to make an effective horror film where much of the horror is implied, but this film does an admirable job taking audiences down the road to madness.
Extremely well-made but also extremely hard to watch, this nasty Spanish thriller may not be everyone's taste. The story of a tormented teenager (Laura Galán) who witnesses her bullies abducted by a mysterious stranger seems typical enough. But then the film subverts that typicality by having the protagonist take joy in the kidnappings, as she sees it as the end of her misery. The result is a film whose horror is mostly psychological (until the intense finale) as the main character must grapple with her own inaction resulting in the victims' predicaments. This is all carried by an incredible performance from the young Galán. This is a very bleak and nihilistic film but for those seeking out that kind of story, it makes for interesting viewing.
5. All Jacked Up and Full of Worms
The EHFF is always at its best when it brings in films that defy classification and this may be the greatest example of that. The story of two men who go down a path of self-destruction after ingesting a batch of hallucinogenic earthworms is something that one has to see to believe. Falling somewhere between Reefer Madness and John Waters, Ken Russell and Troma: the film is demented, incomprehnsible, disgusting, and at times, laugh-out-loud hilarious. This one will be easiest for audiences to hate. I'm recommending the film and I'm not even sure if I liked it. My recommendation comes in the hopes that a film this unique will find an audience demented enough to love it and, for better or worse, it was the film I found myself thinking about most after it was over. Love it or hate it, you will never forget it and that is what makes independent movie-making special.