This past week in Chicago, the warped minds behind the Bruce Campbell Horror Film Festival took over the historic Music Box Theatre for an all out cinematic assault called Cinepocalypse. The event took place for 8 days from last Thursday this past Thursday. This first year (ish, since it’s been re-calibrated from the BCHFF) fest had some of the growing pains of any new fest, but really brought fans and the community of horror together for the entire week.
The fest was hosted by screenwriter Simon Barrett, of The Guest and You’re Next fame, who did an amazing job bringing humor the usual film festival proceedings. I want him to host every fest I go to. He was an excellent moderator for Q&As, shutting down any superfluous questions from the crowd and asking the guests in depth inquiries that really set the bar all week.
Other guests included Smoking Aces filmmaker Joe Carnahan who guest curated some repertory screenings later in the week, horror legend Barbara Crampton, and superstar Eric Roberts among others. In fact, more than half of the films that played in the week’s stacked lineup had guests come along with the film.
What I’ll be doing here in this article is giving you a day by day breakdown of everything I saw and what I thought of the films. I’ll talk a little bit about the Q&A’s that followed films and all the other things that happened while I attended the fest. After that I’ll give a brief summation of the fest overall and what I thought of the whole thing.
Thursday, November 2nd – Opening Night – SWEET VIRGINIA with director Jamie M Dagg in attendance
Sweet Virginia was a slow burn western style thriller in the vein of No Country for Old Men and the films of the Coen Brothers in general. It features Christopher Abbott in a chilling and top notch psycho performance as an unhinged killer. He’s coming after The Punisher himself, Jon Bernthal who gives a great, subdued performance. The story is simple and the leads are extraordinarily watchable, but I found the film’s leading ladies, played by Rosemary DeWitt and Imogen Poots, to be far more interesting. I wished the film had followed more of their stories. Overall, this one was a cool little neo-western with great performances. 3.5/5
The Q&A that followed with the director was very insightful as he talked about the genesis of the project. He mentioned that the film was initially much longer and even more explicitly a western. It even featured, in the script, a 70+ year old man in the lead, a role which ended up actually being filled by the much younger Bernthal.
Friday, November 3rd –
TRAGEDY GIRLS with director Tyler Macintyre in attendance
I needed this movie in my life so bad. Tragedy Girls is weird and hilarious amalgam of Heathers, Very Bad Things, and Scream. Its a part of the emerging genre that films Detention, Freaks of Nature and the recent Netlfix film The Babysitter all fall into, frenetic paced horror comedies for the ADD generation. I love this rising genre that all seem to be inspired by the pacing of Edgar Wright films. Tragedy Girls works as a social commentary ten fold as it follows two psycho killers who try to make a name for themselves on social media as they try to “expose” the murders happening in their small town. I had a big goofy smile on my face from start to finish. This is one of my favorite films of the year so far. 5/5
Macintyre lead a very fun Q&A after the film in which he discussed the original idea for the script and how it emerged from a Scream-like slasher film into the full-on horror comedy it became. He mentioned how scarily the two young leads of the film related to the content of the film. Plus, he gave some fun insights into what he’d imagine a sequel to this film might look like. Macintyre is definitely a filmmaker to pay very close attention to in the horror scene.
PRIMAL RAGE with cast and crew in attendance
Bigfoot is on the loose and he has a specific interest in crushing heads in this uber gory woods-bound thriller. Veteran makeup effects artist Patrick McKee makes his directorial debut on the film, and he takes full advantage of showing off his Bigfoot creation. The crypto monster is more violent than we’ve ever seen him in the past, and like I said, he really likes destroying people’s skulls. The monsters don’t stop with Bigfoot here either. We get an unforgettable wicked witch that helps out our protagonists as well. Let it be said here, that witch needs her own movie. Unfortunately, the film is very long and the runtime wears on the viewer. Tension is let up before fights are over because scenes go on too long. Also, the gore is cool effective, but after a while its just the same thing over and over. The actors were pretty forgettable as well. For me, only a 2/5.
The Q&A after the film featured the director, the two leads, and co-writer. You could really see the director’s passion for the project as he talked about working on it for ten years. The film shoot sounded a bit treacherous, but the tenacity of all involved was admirable.
Friday also featured screenings of PSYCHOPATHS, TERROR OF ALL HALLOWS EVE, THE LODGERS, GET MY GUN, and ATTACK OF THE ADULT BABIES that I had to miss due to work at the day job and conflicting times. After hearing about it at this fest, TERROR OF ALL HALLOWS EVE is way up at the top of my must see for the year list.
Saturday, November 4th
This one was a massive pleasant surprise. I love the work of director Ryuhei Kitamura, but this movie sounded super cheesy with it being about a carload of people who stranded in the desert when they get trapped by a sniper. I was glad to see how much they make this one work. The actors are pretty game and the filmmaker is clearly having some fun with the concept. The night before, the gore factor in Primal Rage was super hyped up, but I’ve got say, this one really delivered, more so than that film, when it came to the red stuff. The injuries sustained in this film by our limited cast were ultra gnarly. Plus, it featured an extra wicked ending. Horror fans can’t miss this one. 4/5
KING COHEN with doc subject Larry Cohen, featured actor Eric Roberts, and director Steve Mitchell in attendance
This breezy documentary about the filmmaking career of genre legend Larry Cohen is a whole ton of fun. The story flies by as we cover all of the prolific filmmakers films. Cohen is such a character himself, he makes for a great lead in this film. Whether you admire the man’s work or never seen one of his films, this film will keep you enthralled from start to finish. Cohen’s story is inspiring to say the least, and filmmakers should take note from this film. It certainly made me want to go back and re-watch some favorites such as The Stuff, Q, and God Told Me To. 5/5
The film was introduced by a merry Eric Roberts and Larry Cohen himself in full showman mode. Their affection for each other was palpable as they discussed working on The Ambulance together and what a positive experience that was for both of them. Cohen was then presented an award for his lifetime achievements in genre filmmaking. After the film, Cohen and director Steve Mitchell took the stage to discuss the making of the documentary. Cohen was candid about being the focus of the film and the subject interviewed. Once again, we was working the crowd like an old school comedian and he was super fun to watch. Cohen sort of stole the Q&A from Mitchell, but Mitchell seemed to have learned to just let Larry go when he’s on.
LOWLIFE with cast and crew in attendance
Going into the festival, Lowlife was probably the most all around anticipated film of the week. The festival programmers aided in building hype by saying not to miss it leading up to its screening. Like all things that are mega-hyped, I couldn’t help but feel slight disappointment in this one. It’s by no means a bad movie, it’s actually pretty good, but it’s far from the best film of the fest. The Tarantino-style fractured narrative follows different eccentric characters as they deal with a pimp and all around scumbag at the center of all their lives. A lot of its shock tactics work. Some, like a sick rape inferred scene and a dude with a nazi symbol tattooed to his face, miss the mark. 4/5
The Q&A to follow the film with the director, producer, writers, and several of the stars was very entertaining. This talk back definitely belonged to the director and producer. They talked about how the film was initially conceived out as an anthology before turning into a full feature which totally makes sense with the film’s narrative structure. It sounded like the film was ultra low budget and put together with shear will and duct tape. The response to the film has been overwhelming for them, but they were excited to share the film with us.
BEYOND THE ROOM: GET EVEN
Chicago’s AV Club was on hand to present the film Get Even as part of their Beyond the Room series. This series takes films like the classic The Room that play as midnight movies because of their quality of generally not being considered good movies, but because of their own oddness. Get Even is a 2007 film pieced together from the 1993 movie Road to Revenge and new footage shot of Los Angeles as B-roll. It was made by lawyer John De Heart as a passion project that he wrote, directed, produced, edited, starred in, and created the music for. Boy, this one was a doozy. Full disclosure, as this was the final 12:15am movie of the night, I didn’t make it through the entire film before having to head to bed. However, from what I did see, this was quite the sight to behold. It has all the makings of a perfect midnight movie. One of the major standouts was a more-so-than-usual unhinged performance from Wings Hauser. I couldn’t take my eyes off the guys. The audience really had a field day with a sung performance from De Heart within the first half hour of the film. If you come across this one, and are looking for something ridiculous to watch with your buddies, definitely scoop this one up.
The films I missed out on this day were the WHEN FEMALES ATTACK shorts block, HAGAZUSSA: A HEATHEN’S CURSE, and CHARISMATA. I hope to catch whichever of these I can soon.
Sunday, November 5th
I sadly had to miss this day due to work, but here is what was on deck for the day’s festivities. The day kicked off with a recording of the podcast ERIC ROBERTS IS THE FUCKING MAN featuring actual Eric Roberts as their guest. Next up, there was a 35mm screening of THE AMBULANCE with Larry Cohen and Eric Roberts in attendance. Following that were screenings of POOR AGNES, SNOWFLAKE, MOTORRAD, a shorts block and the BASKIN director’s latest film, HOUSEWIFE.
Of all these films I missed, the one I am dying to see and just absolutely have to see as soon as possible is Snowflake. This genre mashup from Germany ended up winning the audience award at the fest and sounds like an amazing, energetic new vision from young filmmakers. I had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with the filmmakers and star of the film, and they were so instantly likable and smart about the genre and state of filmmaking today. If talking with them was any indication, I’m going to eat this film up. I wish nothing but the best for these guys.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of the coverage of the festival tomorrow.