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. You can read part 1 here.
Monday, November 6th
The second half of the fest kicked off with a really cool little indie from horror actor turned director Graham Skipper called Sequence Break. Featuring great performances from new genre favorite Chase Williamson (go to any horror film festival anywhere, you will see a film with Williamson in it) and Fabianne Therese, the film is a arcade video game riff on Videodrome. With it’s brisk 80 minute runtime, the film totally works as Williamson’s character gets sucked into the world of the game as he’s dealing with his budding relationship with Therese’s character. I really liked this one a lot. 4/5
Dead Shack is another film out of Cinepocalypse with refreshingly short runtime. Clocking in at around 70 minutes, Shack packs a whole lot of story and mayhem into the time it’s got. It’s a very Goosebumps for adults-type tale with kids facing a neighbor, played by Lauren Holly, who keeps a horde of zombies as pets. The kids are game for all the insanity at hand and are totally fun to watch. The film is heavy on the comedy and unfortunately a lot of it falls flat. The gore here is good and some of the zombies look cool. You can do a lot worse on Saturday night while you’re waiting for your pizza to get there. Dead Shack was fun, but a misses the mark a little too often. 2.5/5
SUSPIRIA in a newly discovered uncut Italian 35mm print with star Jessica Harper in attendance
What is there to say about Suspiria that hasn’t been said time and time again. The film is a classic and is absolutely Dario Argento’s masterpiece. I had seen the film uncut recently in the new 4k restoration that Synapse film did. I had also seen a 35mm print of the film a few years ago in Chicago. This was the first time for me seeing the film uncut and on film though. It was a very cool experience, and the film looked great on the Music Box screen. Nothing like seeing a classic horror film in a totally sold out 900 seat theatre with a group of horror nerds that are super excited for it. This was a very cool experience. If this uncut print makes it to your town, be sure to check it out, even if you’ve seen the film 100 times already.
The screening was followed by a somewhat awkward, but fun Q&A with star Jessica Harper. I got the feeling Harper didn’t really want to be there, and she even made a comment about how she’s rather see the film on Blu-Ray than this print. It was a bit of a sloppy Q&A, but Simon Barrett was one of the moderators, and he tried to keep things on task. It was cool to see Harper talk about the making of the film for sure.
Damn, this movie really surprised me. I don’t know why though because Paco Plaza is a filmmaking force to be reckoned with. Plaza is the co-director of the first two REC films, as well as fully taking the reigns of my favorite in the series, REC 3. Veronica is a simple tale of girl who plays with a ouija board and opens up a door to have dark spirits follow her around and terrorize her family. Don’t let this standard plot keep you away from this top notch horror-fest. Set in 1991 and based a real life case file from the detective who arrived at the scene when things were at their worst for the family, Veronica is a terrifying trip. This one is filled with spooky scenes and dread. Plaza also brings a style all his own to the proceedings, but its one that’s old school reminiscent of Spielberg or the style James Wan conjures up for his ghost movies. Veronica was definitely the scariest film of the fest and one horror fans are sure to enjoy. 4/5
Also playing on Monday were the Shorts Block #2, and the producer’s challenge movie. The producer’s challenge was a really cool concept that I’m sad I had to miss. The film was called DEMENTIA PART 2, and was a a sequel to the producers that were issued the challenge’s own Dementia. While Dementia was a super dark and serious film, Part 2 was a fun spirited, over the top horror comedy. The challenge to the producers was issued when the fest lineup was announced a month ago. They simply had to make a midnight feature film with no parameters other that it had to be a genre film. The fact that they pulled off making a feature film in a month exclusively for Cinepocalypse is pretty amazing. Hope this one gets a proper release soon so I can check it out.
Tuesday, November 7th
Every film festival needs its pretentious art movie. The Crescent is about a recently widowed woman who takes her toddler to a vacation house on the coast. She soon realizes she won’t be getting the rest and relaxation she needs when ghostly spirits begin appearing on the sea. I wanted to like this movie. The first half of the film was quite pretentious, but I was still engrossed in the film. What they were able to pull off filming a toddler was quite amazing. Then, the film fractures and spins off into about a 1000 false endings and there’s crab people for some reason. I can’t really recommend this film, but every fest needs one of these I guess. 2/5
MOHAWK with director Ted Geoghegan in attendance
Mohawk is a brutal film set in 1812 about a Native American woman on the run from American soldiers who just want to kill her simply because she’s Native American. In Geoghegan’s intro for the film, he mentioned that this film was born out of a frustration of what’s going on in America today. It’s very thinly veiled social commentary in the film with the evil Americans soldiers spouting off Trump-isms as if it were today. It was extraordinarily satisfying watching them get picked off one by one, but I’m not going to lie, I wanted their ends to be more brutal and gruesome. I wanted to watch these despicable characters suffer as awfully as possible. Sadly, the Native Americans get the rougher treatment here. It does hammer home the point of the movie though. Horror character actor Ezra Buzzington gives a star making performance here as the evil captain. 3.5/5
APPLECART with actress Barbara Crampton in attendance
Applecart is a weird fucking movie. It’s half a satire of schlocky true crime docu-series and half the story of what really happened the night a family was murdered. Barbara Crampton gets a juicy part here as the catalyst that kicks off the family’s drama. AJ Bowen does an amazing job as the husband and father who goes out to a secluded cabin to re-align after receiving a cancer diagnosis. The real breakout here is Brea Grant who gives a career defining performance as the “Axe Mom” of the family. Once the film gets into the trippier, gooey stuff, it reminded me of an early nineties Full Moon movie. I loved how strange the movie got, and it features some absolutely amazing creature and effects work. Don’t miss Applecart. 5/5
Barbara Crampton was on hand to discuss the film after the screening. What we were seeing at the fest was a new cut of the film. She described what the previous cut of the film was like that screened at other festivals. Apparently, there was more True Crime doc stuff in the film, but I think, from the sounds of it, it was cut down appropriately. The Q&A quickly spun off into talking about Crampton’s long and varied career in the horror genre which was definitely fun to hear. Crampton was a great guest for the festival.
Secret Screening – IT CAME FROM THE DESERT
Ehhhhhhh, I fucking hated this movie. Before we get into it, anticipation was high for the secret screening. Cinepocalypse, as you can see, had a stacked lineup of pretty much all the most anticipated horror films of the season. So, the extremely tight lipped secret screening had us all very excited. We knew we were going to be the first to see this new film. The programmers faked us out by playing the first few minutes of the first reel of Barney’s Great Adventure on 35mm. Yes, Barney the purple dinosaur. And I wish they would have stuck with that film. What we really got was It Came from the Desert which was based on the cult classic 80s video game. Nothing here worked. It was a horror comedy, but nothing was funny. Our leads just say “dude” a lot (like every other word a lot) and chase beer and women as they try to escape giant ants. Some of the giant ant effects look good. We even get glimpses of practical effects ants. The material should have been subversive and had our valley boy characters be more like a Wayne and Garth or Bill and Ted in order for the dude humor to work. Instead the proceedings just fall flat and make the 90 minute movie feel like a torturous hours long experience. Avoid this one folks. For a giant killer ant movie, it’s somehow worse than a Syfy channel movie of the week. 1/5
Tuesday also featured a screening of TRENCH 11 which I missed. Plus, Joe Carnahan hosted a 35mm screening of his first film BLOOD GUTS BULLETS AND OCTANE as part of his repertory screenings series during the fest.
Wednesday, November 8th
Wednesday only featured one new film, the superhero horror film RENDEL. The rest of the films were one’s pulled and hosted by Joe Carnahan. The films screened were 35mm prints of BULLET IN THE HEAD, NEAR DARK, FOXY BROWN, MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE (!) and a 4k restoration of Walter Hill’s HARD TIMES. I’ve been lucky enough to see 35mm prints of Maximum Overdrive and Near Dark in Chicago and both were absolutely amazing experiences. There’s something really special about seeing these films presented the way they were originally meant to be seen in a day and age when digital rules.
Thursday, November 9th
Jailbreak was a cute and admirable low budget riff on The Raid. Made in Cambodia for very little money, the film features a group of cops on an extraction team who get trapped in a prison with the countries most dangerous criminals. Fists and blood fly as the movie spins into one giant fight scene after another. While obviously The Raid is vastly superior, Jailbreak does a fun job of getting the viewer right into the action in all the fight scenes in the movie. Action film fans will have fun with this one. 3.5/5
Thursday also featured a 35mm screening of I’M GOING TO GIT YOU SUCKA with actor Antonio Fargas in attendance who was awarded a lifetime achievement award. He also was on hand for the screening of BEYOND SKYLINE, which I missed, but I heard was absolutely amazing. The day also featured a screening of the film ANIMALS.
Overall, Cinepocalypse was a fun little experiment of a film festival. Attendance was super light outside of the Suspiria screening, but I hope they get to do another version of this in the future. I think 8 days was bit ambitious for the first time out of the gate, and they may have stretched themselves a bit thin. Also, coming right after Halloween felt like a weird time to hold the festival. I’d like to see this happen in the Bruce Campbell Horror Film Festival spot in August or even September/October. I did enjoy what the fest had to offer and I think the programmers did a fine job filling the 8 days. I will say the Music Box is a much better venue for them over the AMC Rosemont where the fest previously was in its older incarnation. It will be interesting to see what comes next for Cinepocalypse, but sign me up for what ever it is because this one was a lot of fun.