Now in its 4th year, the Hot Springs International Horror Film festival, held September 22nd-25th 2016 at the historic Central Theater in Hot Springs, Arkansas, tore through the weekend filled with fun and frights just in time to start the Halloween season.
Halloween would be all too appropriate seeing as the festival was co-founded and hosted by Halloween 5 star Tamara Glynn who played Samantha Thomas in the film. The festival was also co-founded by longtime Hollywood production designer Bill Volland.
My first experience with Hot Springs Horror came last year when my film Take Back the Knife screened in the festival. I came down from Chicago to be a part of the fest, and it was some of the most fun I had last year. When I had an opportunity to see some family in Arkansas the same week as the festival this year, I decided to stop by for the Friday and Saturday festivities while I was down there. This year’s fest featured an incredible lineup that made me wish I could have been there for the other two days of the festival as well. Here’s a run down of the feature films I got to see.
A slow burn of a horror film, Dry Blood is the story of a man returning to his family member’s cabin only to haunted by ghostly visions and hunted by a cop obsessed with his past. To divulge anymore would get into spoiler-y territory. Overall, the film is satisfactory, but a little bogged down by it’s slow pacing. I’m all for slow burn horror, but it has to be more deliberate and not meandering. That said, the film does feature some incredible special effects. In what I’m assuming is a seamless blending of CGI and practical effects, the film displays some terrifying ghostly figures as well as some truly horrifying gore. The movie is worth checking out once for the effects alone.
ALL THE WRONG FRIENDS
This “Ten Little Indians” style thriller delivered in more ways than I expected. What starts out with a simple premise of friends on a road trip stopping at a creepy abandoned house turns into a nail-biting who-done-it with twists and turns abound. The friends start running into trouble when the owner of the house turns out to be dead and two drifters come by looking for some medical attention. With a dead body hidden upstairs, the drugged up kids have to walk on pins and needles around their unexpected visitors. The movie really takes off when the kids start turning up dead one by one. The film really keeps you guessing up until the final reveal. This was a super well done indie.
Get ready for the latest slasher sure to become a fixture in your annual Halloween movie marathons. Pitchfork is another film with a seemingly simple premise that spins its own clever story beats making for a satisfying genre entry. When a group of city kids go out for a vacation at one of the group’s family farm, it’s all fun and games until a pitchfork-handed psychopath starts slashing them apart. The film turns out to be a bit of a genre bender with some broad comedy and even some dance sequences. Pitchfork doesn’t skimp out on the horror, though. It features some pretty grisly effects and a wonderfully demented slasher. Fans of the subgenre do not want to miss this one.
Nocturne ended up being my favorite film of the festival, followed by Pitchfork at a close second. Brutal, intense, and gory as hell, Nocturne is a tale about a makeshift seance gone wrong. A group of friends decide to skip out on the big graduation party and have a small get together instead. But instead of a night of fun and games, each game they play turns out more horrifying than the last. The film features some strong performances from its whole cast (even though I found it hard to believe these 30 somethings were supposed to be high schoolers). The practical effects in the film are top notch as well. I could see this film being one of my favorite films of 2016.
I ended the fest with this film which turned out to be a whole ton of fun. The production staff of a late night horror show is faced with a killer within the studio and an audience that won’t believe their cries for help. This was another film with really strong performances at the fest. Even though the film was another who-done-it, I was glued to the screen from start to finish. Adding in a blend of gallows humor with all the mayhem really made this one a lot of fun. I can definitely recommend this one to horror fans. It’s a nice play on the horror-host formula.
I also finally got to check out the multiple award winning short Night of the Slasher at the start of the fest which really blew me away. Believe the hype on this one, folks. It’s a horror fan’s dream short film. I also got to check out the shorts Helio, Do Not Disturb, and Voyeur. Of the three, Do Not Disturb impressed me the most with its simple premise of two people waking up in a room tied up together and delivering something really original. Voyeur was also very intriguing as well. These are some shorts horror fans should definitely seek out at their local festivals.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the live Alan Howarth performance Saturday night. Howarth is the composer of three of the Halloween sequels as well as a collaborator with John Carpenter on a good chunk of his classic scores. He was in town to perform a concert with music from some of these films. While I only caught some of the performance this time, I was able to see his show last year in Chicago, and I have to say it was incredible. The man has such a robust body of work, every song he played with a trip down horror movie memory lane to some of my favorite genre films. If Howarth is playing in your town, be sure to check it out.
Hot Springs International Horror Film Festival 2016 totally delivered on bringing fans some solid new horror entries. I hope you get to check out the films I wrote about soon. For more information on the festival and films screened check out their website here. I hope to make the trip to Hot Springs again next year to see what and who they discover next!