Just over a week ago we spent three days within the comforts of Sheffield’s Showroom Cinema for what turned out to be one of the most consistently solid weekends of any genre festival to hit the UK this year: Celluloid Screams.
Hosted by festival organiser Robert Nevitt and his team, Celluloid Screams dished out a weekend packed full of unmissable horror fare, punctuated with appearances by some very special guests including Astron-6’s Adam Brooks, Matthew Kennedy and Conor Sweeney, who were joined on stage by The Editor and The Human Centipede 2‘s Laurence R. Harvey for a few rollicking Q&A sessions.
Guest of honour Brian Yuzna proved an enthusiastic and energetic individual as he presented a 35mm screening of his classic film Society and kicked off the annual all-nighter with Bride of Re-Animator (which was followed by a perfect sequence of Maximum Overdrive, Night of the Creeps and Killer Klowns From Outer Space in a night themed on ’80s Sci-Fi/Horror). Hanging around to sign posters and chat with fans, Yuzna and the Astron-6 crew made sure that a spirit of camaraderie and appreciation was kept alive at all times. There’s no diva business or rushing off to green rooms at Celluloid Screams, horror fans!
Kings of the Q&A, though, were Spring directing duo Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, whose post-screening session evolved into a multi-act stand-up show which saw the duo take to the crowd, hopping back and forth from the stage and engaging in regularly hilarious interaction with the punters. A class act through and through, you’ll want to catch these guys wherever they pop up – and they’re no slouches when it comes to the filmmaking, either.
Other highlights included a surprise appearance via Skype by Twisted Twins Jen and Sylvia Soska following ABCs of Death 2 as they drank Screwdrivers and engaged in lively, side-splitting conversation with Astron-6 and Harvey. Watching Laurence run, arms open, towards giant projected cleavage was like seeing someone’s wildest dreams come true. Highly entertaining stuff and indicative of the feel-good atmosphere of the fest.
This year’s award winners are:
BEST FEATURE FILM – What We Do in the Shadows
BEST SHORT FILM – The Stomach
2014 JURY PRIZE – Canis
SPECIAL MENTION – Timothy
Special mention goes to the Celluloid Screams staff and assistants, who were constantly on-hand to deal with enquiries and keep audiences entertained in between films. The standout moment there was an impromptu Flash Gordon-themed poster giveaway (put your hand in the hole and see what come out… it might be shit, or it might be great!) while problems with the screen were resolved prior to the showing of Asmodexia (this year’s Secret Film). Bravo, guys.
The annual art gallery was also in full swing, with genre-themed art on show throughout the lobby areas and available for purchase. You can see some of the pieces in our Celluloid Screams 2014 photo gallery.
Moving on to the films, here’s a list of reviews for those which hit the main screen alongside Stuart Gordon’s fantastic Lovecraftian ditty Dagon,and Cool Guys: The Short Films of Astron-6:
- The Editor review here.
- Housebound review here.
- Creep review here.
- Strawberry Chocolate Vanilla review here.
- Starry Eyes review here.
- What We Do in the Shadows review here.
- Spring review here.
- Suburban Gothic review here.
- ABCs of Death 2 review here.
- Asmodexia review here.
- Dead Snow 2 review here.
- The Stomach review here.
Pretty much all killer, no filler, then!
A range of short films were also screened before a number of the main features, and while we didn’t manage to catch them all, here’s the lowdown on what you should be keeping an eye out for:
Timothy – Directed by Marc Martínez Jordán | Spain | 2013 | 9.5 minutes
When Simon’s babysitter, Sonia, interrupts his enthusiastic viewing of his favourite TV show, ‘The Timothy Show,’ the boy retires to his room – only to be visited by the giant, giggling rabbit-headed mascot. That turns out to be bad news for Sonia, as it seems that Timothy gets his kicks through rather brutal means.
Jordán’s short is quick, bloody and rather predictable in the end – but it’s filled with enough energy and enthusiasm, mixed with dread and discomfort, to make it worthwhile. It looks excellent, with a twisted sense of humour that bodes well for future features from him.
3 1/2 out of 5
The Gas Man – Directed by Matt Palmer | United Kingdom | 2014 | 14 minutes
A woman living alone answers the door to a man claiming to be from the gas company and needing to check her boiler. Disturbed by his odd, lingering behaviour, she soon confronts him and he leaves. But later that night, events force her to consider whether he actually left the house at all…
Palmer’s The Gas Man is a highly atmospheric piece of work, ably playing with the sense of isolation and defencelessness that surrounds a lone woman in a big house at night. The dread is palpable, and there’s a sting in the tail that proves fittingly chilling and uncomfortable. On the downside, his lead character is difficult to connect with, seeming somewhat stuck up and privileged and there’s occasional trouble striking the balance between pacing and tension – but overall, it’s a fine piece of work.
3 1/2 out of 5
Dead Hearts – Directed by Stephen W. Martin | Canada | 2014 | 17 minutes
Milton Mulberry is a young mortician – a very odd little fellow who spends much of his childhood at the mercy of bullies… until Lola Littleton steps in and kicks their asses. After his death in later life, he rises from the grave to discover that his heart is missing… and heads off to find that certain special someone who now has it.
Dead Hearts has a very Wes Anderson meets Tim Burton feel to it, with the proceedings driven by its saccharine-voiced narrator. Saccharine, too, is the overall feeling of the story, which tells of undying love and the search for that emotional connection that makes us whole. Generally, it’s superbly shot, but the martial arts sequences are clumsy in comparison to what surrounds them.
It appears to have been an audience favourite at Celluloid Screams, but I simply found it much too twee and self-satisfied. Then again, I’m a grumpy, cynical bastard, so make of that what you will.
2 1/2 out of 5
Mr. Dentonn – Directed by Ivan Villamel | Spain | 2014 | 9 minutes
It’s bedtime, and Laura is reading her brother the story of Mr. Dentonn – an entity that makes its way into homes through the mirrors to steal the souls of children. Almost immediately after finishing her tale, Mr. Dentonn arrives to seek the young boy, and the battle to save him begins.
Villamel’s short suffers from jumping straight into the action – the brief overview of the titular entity that we get simply doesn’t feel like enough before he’s wreaking havoc in the home. On the other hand, the production design and atmosphere here are absolutely fantastic. Shrouded in shadows, Mr. Dentonn sweeps across the home’s mirrors and glides down hallways, almost always out of focus, like a cross between the eponymous antagonists of Mama and The Babadook.
When the ending comes around, it’s fittingly bleak, but Villamel’s film just can’t manage to get around the feeling of a greater mythology behind it all, and thus it feels unfairly truncated and lacking punch. It’s a big idea struggling to fit into a small space, but here’s hoping it does its job as a calling card – there’s more than enough evidence here that he has the chops for a feature.
2 1/2 out of 5
Ghost Train – Directed by Lee Cronin | Ireland/Finland | 2013 | 17 minutes
Two friends reunite on their annual trip to an abandoned rural fairground to commemorate the disappearance of one of their childhood buddies in Lee Cronin’s short, Ghost Train. This year, however, one of the friends reveals a secret behind what happened… and the revelation leads them straight down a road of horror when the ghost train spits out what it took.
Ghost Train is one of the most impressive shorts in quite a while. Using its time wisely to reveal and build on character relationships, it tells a gripping story in both the modern day and the past, using a cast without a single weak link. Production design is top notch, especially the giant ghost train ride of the title, which is a hugely impressive, and ominous, piece of work as it quite literally seems to come alive as the ride powers up.
Magnificent stuff, full of classical dread, sympathetic characters and a horrific payoff.
5 out of 5
The Jigsaw – Directed by Basil Al-Safar, Rashad Al-Safar | United Kingdom/Portugal | 2014 | 9 minutes
There’s a mix of Clive Barker and H.P. Lovecraft in Basil and Rashad Al-Safar’s The Jigsaw, in which an old man visits an antique store looking for a new puzzle. There, he discovers a jigsaw stored in an unmarked box and, refusing to heed the warnings of the shop’s owner, purchases it.
Taking it home on a dark and stormy night, he begins to put it together… soon revealing an image of sheer terror.
Directing duo Basil and Rashad have a strong handle on pacing and tension, here, though the initial build-up is marred somewhat by a too-theatrical performance by Daragh O’Malley as the store vendor. Moving on, though, The Jigsaw manages to effortlessly keep you gripped, desperate to see just what the puzzle will reveal.
When it does dish up the goods in the final moments, it’s a bone-chilling moment that does exactly what it needs to.
4 out of 5
Ink – Directed by Andy Stewart | United Kingdom | 2014 | 20 minutes
A particularly disturbed individual follows people on the street and relieves them of their body art, sewing the pieces onto himself in gruesome fashion to satisfy his apparent complete obsession with tattoos, but lack of money (one assumes, given the squalor in which he lives) to get his own.
Narratively, Ink is a rather weak effort – there isn’t much time given to character study or attempting to understand just why this individual is as twisted as he is – but what it lacks in that department it more than makes up for in sheer disgust.
The physical effects here are excellent, and utterly, horrendously stomach-churning. I don’t think I’ve seen anything as convincingly, painfully repulsive since Hisayasu Satō’s Naked Blood. Eyes will be diverted from the screen – you can believe that.
3 1/2 out of 5
Emptied – Directed by David Ferino | USA | 2014 | 6 minutes
Seeking to make amends for his infidelity, a man makes an after-hours appointment with his dentist ex-girlfriend. Unfortunately for him, she doesn’t want to hear any of it – and his flippant dismissal of his actions lead her to take a particularly heinous form of revenge while he’s subdued in her chair.
Based on a real-life occurrence, Emptied is a quick and simple short that hopes to ride high on the back of just what happens to the cock-sure fella at the centre of it. Regrettably, it’s all presented too clinically, failing to use its own craft to push buttons or really extend into the realm of truly toe-curling mouth-torture that Brian Yuzna’s The Dentist set the bar for (almost 20 years ago!)
It all boils down to very little in the end. Capably shot and well lit as it is, it unfortunately never manages to make much of an impact.
2 out of 5
Canis – Directed by Marc Riba, Anna Solanas | Spain | 2013 | 17 minutes
In what appears to be some kind of post-apocalyptic landscape, a young boy lives with his father and canine companion in a house constantly besieged by ravenous stray dogs. When an innocent mistake sees the family’s chickens fly the coop and the father brutally consumed by the dogs outside, the boy discovers a strange girl living amongst the animals, clad in the skins of dead dogs and walking on all fours – seemingly feral in nature.
Soon, he develops a relationship with the girl – one that will soon be marred by the ferocious world that surrounds them.
Directors Riba and Solanas forge a strange, hideous universe from what appears to be clay. In animating the characters, the clay must be kept wet to avoid it cracking and splitting, and thus almost everything appears covered in a weird, slimy sheen that brings a severely uncomfortable visual element to the story. Running without dialogue, they deftly manage to build a believable relationship between the boy and his dog and, in turn, the boy and the feral girl – leading to some anguished decisions and gray-area morality. It’s a striking piece of short work that centres on survival, instinct and necessity in a grim world with a style that is most assuredly all its own. A beacon of hope shines at the close, lest the relentless gloominess overwhelm.
4 out of 5
And so that’s it for another, highly impressive year at Celluloid Screams in Sheffield. We’ll hopefully be back next year (and you should go, too!) – but for now, take a look at our photo gallery and continue wishing that you could buy that fantastic Killer Klowns From Outer Space art piece.