2019 marks the third annual Cinepocalypse Genre Film Festival in Chicago, Illinois, held once again at the Music Box Theatre. Growing out of the successful Bruce Campbell Horror Film Festival previously held at Rosemont (and attached to the Wizard World convention), Cinepocalypse’s ambitions have never been modest — they came out of the gate with a full week of programming, and while they have made some other tweaks to their format they have kept the marathon length. This year’s festival includes a number of world premieres and numerous Midwest premieres, as well as some wild repertory screenings and an evening with Joe Bob Briggs. Here is the first in a two-part recap covering some highlights of this year’s festival.
PUNTO MUERTO (aka DEAD END, Argentina, dir. Daniel de la Vega)
Penafiel, an aging mystery writer who fears his best work may be behind him, is attending a writers’ conference with other novelists and at least one of his most vicious critics. After discussing the difficulty of creating a satisfying “locked room” mystery with a younger writer, Penafiel finds himself in the midst of one himself when one of the other attendees turns up dead — and Penafiel is the top suspect. PUNTO MUERTO is a stylish throwback mystery thriller, shot in stark black & white and accompanied by a fantastic score by Luciano Onetti. It gets a little bogged down in its complicated machinations in the middle, but comes back with a wild (and appropriately improbable) finale that is worth the wait.
VILLAINS (USA, dir. Dan Berk & Robert Olsen)
A pair of young petty criminals rob a gas station and head to Florida, only to find when they’re barely out of town that they should have gassed up first. They break into an isolated home in the woods where they find some very weird stuff, and things get even more complicated when the homeowners return. VILLAINS has four great lead performances — Maika Monroe and Bill Skarsgård as the young thieves, Jeffrey Donovan and Kyra Sedgwick as the homeowners — and a number of laugh-out-loud absurdist twists, but the tonal inconsistencies between the almost cartoonishly goofy characters and the bizarre violence is frequently jarring. It’s a bit more satisfying than Berk & Olsen’s previous feature BODY, which similarly had a fantastic small cast but an inevitable ending that didn’t quite land. It will be exciting to see where these filmmakers go next!
BLISS (USA, dir. Joe Begos)
Dezzy (Dora Madison) is a painter with seriously overdue deadlines, and she suspects her stint of sobriety is to blame. With her agent threatening to drop her and her landlord breathing down her neck, she overcorrects and goes on a bender where she runs into an old friend who suspiciously wears heavy sunglasses at night. When Dezzy wakes up the next day with a killer hangover but some progress on her new painting that she doesn’t remember, she plunges headlong into a nightmare in a desperate attempt to finish her masterpiece before it finishes her. Joe Begos’s third feature is a massive leap forward from his previous work, a supersaturated, nerve-shredding assault on the senses that’s more Noé than Cronenberg. Not that there’s a dearth of gore here: Begos turns absolutely everything up to 11, and the results are simultaneously exhausting and exhilarating. There’s not much to the characters–although Madison commits 100%, and gives an absolutely harrowing performance–but that’s not why one buys the ticket to this ride. And for anyone looking for an overwhelming sensory experience, BLISS absolutely delivers.
ATTACK OF THE DEMONS (USA, dir. Eric Power)
It’s time for small town Barrington, Colorado’s weeklong Halloween event, where people come from all over the country for chills, fun, and a big music festival. So it’s also the perfect time for an ancient evil to return from the depths of the Earth. Three former schoolmates have reunited during the festivities, but soon find themselves on the front lines of a war against a rapidly-spreading demonic horde. Also, the entire movie is made with construction paper cut-outs! The obvious reference here is SOUTH PARK, but ATTACK OF THE DEMONS has more detailed, elaborate, and imaginative character design and animation than that series. Some of the dialogue is a little clunky, especially in the earlier scenes, but once it gets up and running this is a super fun take on some familiar genre territory.
KINDRED SPIRITS (USA, dir. Lucky McKee)
After disappearing for a year, Sadie (Caitlin Stasey) returns to the childhood home where her older sister Chloe (Thora Birch) and her niece Nicole (Sasha Frolova) live. Chloe’s wary but glad to see her, and Sadie isn’t exactly forthcoming about why she’s back. She does say she’s made mistakes and wants to start over, which is totally reasonable. Her plan includes basically stealing her adoring niece’s life, though, which is much less reasonable. KINDRED SPIRITS would sit comfortably on the video store shelf with other ’90s thrillers in the SINGLE WHITE FEMALE vein, but Lucky McKee and his excellent cast give these characters some serious weight that this film’s Lifetime thriller contemporaries rarely attempt. The time invested with the characters in the opening of the film pays off tremendously in the back half, which pulls off some tricky tonal shifts when the more psychologically-based thrills give way to gruesome violence. Anyone pining for the heyday of ’90s “obsessed (x) thrillers” should put this film on their radar immediately.
SATANIC PANIC (USA, dir. Chelsea Stardust)
Sam (Hayley Griffith) is at the tail end of her disastrous first shift delivering pizzas when an order comes in from an extremely affluent neighborhood that’s technically out of her delivery zone. When she gets stiffed at the door of a mansion, she sneaks inside and tries to find someone to confront but unwittingly stumbles into a Satanic ritual meant to give Danica (Rebecca Romijn) and her coven even more unimaginable wealth. In need of a virgin post-haste, the coven must capture Sam and sacrifice her before dawn. SATANIC PANIC is a fun and gory horror/comedy with a roster of surprisingly strong comedic performances (Romijn has never been better) and some impressively weird set pieces. It moves at a quick clip, alternating in its cat-and-mouse game between the mostly inept coven and Sam trying to escape their clutches with the help of Danica’s daughter Judi (Ruby Modine). Grady Hendrix’s script is sharp and packed with great one-liners, and debut feature director Chelsea Stardust keeps the proceedings moving along at a brisk clip. SATANIC PANIC is a fast, funny, bloody good time.
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Tags: Argentina, Bill Skarsgård, Caitlin Stasey, Chelsea Stardust, Chicago, Cinepocalypse, Dan Berk, Daniel de la Vega, Dora Madison, Eric Power, Festivals, Grady Hendrix, Hayley Griffith, Jeffrey Donovan, Joe Begos, Joe Bob Briggs, Kyra Sedgwick, Luciano Onetti, Lucky McKee, Maika Monroe, Rebecca Romijn, Robert Olsen, Ruby Modine, Sasha Frolova, Satanic Panic, Thora Birch